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Author Topic: An outsider's look at contemporary music.  (Read 11571 times)

notselfcreated

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An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« on: 06 Dec 2006, 03:26 »

I wrote this on a ginormous caffeine high, and it is quite long. It's my attempt at a deep understanding of the appeal of contemporary secular music as a body. I call myself an "outsider" because, although I love all the same music, I am fanatically Catholic, and that sometimes puts a crimp in my ability to enjoy certain songs.

One of my favorite local radio stations in town is KFMA - "new rock". They do a lot of punk, alternative, metal, as well as some acoustic and stuff. One of the things I like about the station is the wide range of emotions that get expressed in the different songs - almost like a profile of your typical 20-something anglophone. There's the angry music (Godsmack, Metallica) and the whiney, self-absorbed music (Plain White T's, Three Days Grace). Those don't interest me as much.

But on occasion you get a group that seems to do everything within its ability to run up against the boundaries of being; the music throws itself against the plastic of the modern hamster ball, trying to get beyond it, outside of it; though in a tragic existential irony, the very act only causes the ball to roll faster. Some groups that come to mind are Muse, Beck, Incubus, Gorillaz, maybe a couple others (I'd like suggestions).

Other groups' hit songs - like Modest Mouse's "Float On" and New Found Glory's "It's Not Your Fault" - try to evoke relief from the struggles and anxieties of guilt and worry.

Of course, the same station has plenty of songs that don't really have any redeeming value at all for the Christian perspective... Buckcherry's "Crazy Bitch", for example, or virtually anything by Nine Inch Nails, which basically take cheeky pleasure in giving up the search for ultimacy or transcendence and dive right back into hedonistic narcissism, and with gusto. "There is no you, there is only me" (NIN's "Only").

But what manifests in song after song are modern treatises on the most important things in life; a dramatic dispute. There is a war going on internally in the collective mind of secularist culture, even before any talk of organized religion comes onto the scene. Similar to how Greek drama reflected how the collective psyche of the day was coping with life, strung between the impoverishment of Homeric myth, the rise of Platonic rationalism, and the rebellion of the mystery religions, so now contemporary music reflects an emotional and intellectual constellation. This constellation is a delight precisely because of its diversity even to the point of self-contradiction, its richness as a roller-coaster of emotions--which are not, importantly, felt as a "meaningless sequence of empty experiences" (as stated by a T-shirt banner ad on the QC front page), but rather the very dispute between meaningfulness and meaninglessness themselves.

It is not hard to understand why the most commonly heard 'Christian' themes are not likely to win substantial credibility when set in 'competition' with the secular milieu.

Precisely the strongest appeal of secularism over and against Christianity is its overwhelming self-sense of having a greater respect for truth; as well as a series of convictions of what truth is. Truth is complex, not simple; sensible, not invisible; democratic, not the exclusive possession of authoritarian demagogues (whether Popes or preachers). Importantly, truth is a difficult and elusive thing to see, if indeed it can be seen at all, especially in great matters; thus the very word "faith," if it connotes any actual belief in propositions without the attendant struggle of deep rational thought, is an offense deserving only of ridicule.

For these very good and very persuasive convictions, Christian music--even if it attempts (with mixed success) to co-opt the instruments or the style of rock and alternative--will scarcely ever win converts to its legions of doe-eyed "Jesus freaks". It does nothing to challenge the ABC's of secularism ("Anything But Christianity"). Worse, it offends secular-minded listeners who perceive or suspect its evangelical nature; that it is a baited hook, and thus lacks precisely the integrity and honesty of expression that makes secular music so appealing (even if that secular song's message may not coincide with a feeling or opinion of 'my own').

Ultimately, if secular music is set side-by-side with Christian-themed music, the secular music will come across as truly superior; not only, as is often the case, in its craftsmanship, but in its content. Secularism is diverse, Christianity is monotone; secularism respects the fact that life is sometimes painful and hard, Christianity is always offering easy answers; secularism has a sense of humor, Christianity takes itself too seriously (whether in glazed-eye happiness or self-immolating sorrow); secularism embraces life, Christianity just embraces ghosts and invisible friends. Christian songwriters, I think, make the common mistake of believing that since so many secular songs are anxious, lonely, and pain-wracked, that the secularists are begging for relief and company, which Jesus can give them. That's wrong. It is precisely the tensions and contradictions and fluctuation and ambiguities that hold the greatest attraction for the secularist; it is the common Christian failure to recognize this which forms the core of the failure of Christian music (and in no small part the failure of much Christian evangelization).

Let's ignore Christian music for now. Like I said, before any mention of religion arrives on the scene, there is already a vast "debate" which secular music is engaged in, far moreso than we might see in Internet forums and such. It is not a debate in the sense of songs being written as if they were arguments. Songs are largely blind to one-another. But like preachers, music groups invariably have messages, even if their expressed intent is not to have a message. Muse's songs typically carry a sense of strident ambition and soaring transcendence, without ever actually saying what that ambition is directed towards--as if to celebrate ambition itself. By marked contrast, Gnarles Barkley's "Crazy" has the memorable line, "Ha ha ha, bless your soul; you really think you're in control?" and Jem's "Just a Ride" chides our ambitions, "So we make our plans, Ten times a day, And when they don't go our way we, Breakdown... It's just a ride, it's just a ride." So much for changing the world on my own steam.

Secular music is about throwing up every scrap of human experience into the air (or the airwaves, as the case may be) and letting the pieces fall where they may. But it's more than that. Or at least, it is the secular ambition to be more than that. Rock is the new repository of deep thought. Every musician is a philosopher, even the ones that attempt to be the anti-philosophers. And I suspect that it is impossible to express oneself in music without feeling a sense of contribution, and thus of progress made in the collective bank of popular human wisdom. But to what end?

That's the key question. To what end, really? It's the question dealt with in many songs, directly or indirectly. For Muse the answer might be, "To an important end;" for Jem, "To the end of enjoyment." For NIN, "To my end" (or "To f you like an animal..."); for Modest Mouse, "Not to worry so much".

But as much as one might emphasize the diversity and difference in the answers, given or implied in secular music, there is as much in common. Comfort, respect, inner peace, truth, love, reality, fun, friends, justice, authenticity, sex, strength, honesty, escape, change, help, freedom, radicalism, kindness, tolerance: secular virtues with high premiums. It is a kind of chaotic eudaimonia that doesn't bother balancing these virtues or holding them together as one whole. Instead it screams out one or two as loud as it can at this moment, and then silences them and screams out another.

Again, to what end? No matter how good, a single song can only satisfy a very partial human emotional urge; if the urge is stronger than five minutes can fix, we replay it until we've had our fill and hunger for a different flavor or for silence. The above virtues I mentioned are just that, flavors; and we like the flavors as strong and undiluted as possible. Yet we never achieve anything like a sustainable satisfaction, nothing that carries us for quite as long as we would have wished. And so we turn, now to the righteous anger of Korn, now to the self-loathing of Linkin Park, now to the mischievous charm of Red Hot Chili Peppers. As we flip from theme to theme to theme, I think, three things happen; first, a little bit of hope, a little excitement, fresh with each subsequent song. A little bit of "Oh, yes, YES," in an erotic flirtation with infinity and an inexplicit wishfulness that it could only last forever. Then, a growing awareness that the rush of each song is a little less strong each time; the themes have all been cycled through, and we start to perceive via boredom that even art and human expression is not as infinite as we once supposed; and finally, a renewal of the excitement, via a song that we hadn't heard before (treating an old theme in a different way), or via a personal amnesia that gives an illusion of freshness that we welcome.

The perpetuity of the enjoyment of secular music is cyclical and amnesiatic rather than actually progressive or transcendent, and this is a sense that I believe artists and music fans are not entirely unaware of. It's precisely why you have groups like Beck and Gorillaz writing lyrics of apparent nonsense, or NIN and Manson writing shocker lyrics, both in their own way trying to break free of this pervasive and stultifying sense of the finitude of life. Kierkegaard fans will be with me on this--the aesthetic leaves one infinitely hungry.

Although there are happy songs, there is a kind of a sweet sadness attendant to being a secular music fan, even if one does happen to be, like me, an ardent Christian. Even in the enjoyment of the power of music there is the realization that it is a limited power and my hunger is not limited but goes on forever. It is precisely this phenomenon which creates the best music, but notice how music artists are not necessarily happier people than anybody else; ah, the frustration of trying to put the infinite into words and notes! To struggle to sing like gods, to grow exhausted and finally to wish to retreat back into the womb; yet the highest highs and lowest lows have been tread over a thousand times, and still no one has yet found the key to happiness and most people live in the world utterly without it, no less the music fans.

(edited for pretentiousness)
« Last Edit: 06 Dec 2006, 03:57 by notselfcreated »
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negative creep

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #1 on: 06 Dec 2006, 03:43 »

interesting.
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valley_parade

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #2 on: 06 Dec 2006, 04:05 »

Holy shit, what is with the really really long posts lately?
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #3 on: 06 Dec 2006, 04:25 »

I've been running into this alot lately, since i've spent the past month 'in a pit of existential despair'/'being emo'/'pondering the infinate ironies of the human condition'... whatever you want to call it, there's been lots of screaming and yelling and utter hideousness... and I look for music that finds some sort of transcendence in that... and i've found that even in the happiest songs there's some aknowledgment of the despair of the human condition, even in stuff as stupid as Bon Jovi ("I ain't gonna live forever/I just wanna live while i'm alive"). The most comfort i've found is in small mantras- stuff like the Flaming Lips
There is Christian music that i really enjoy- Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens - but its for the same reasons.
UGH
i need to stop contemplating being and nothingness. its only 10am!
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jeph

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #4 on: 06 Dec 2006, 04:32 »

Holy shit, what is with the really really long posts lately?

At least this one wasn't fucking insane.
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camelpimp

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #5 on: 06 Dec 2006, 04:43 »

This just reminded me of 60's music, the hippy stuff. "All You Need is Love." It's interesting that ever since the backlash against the optimism of the 60's, that there really hasn't been a popular ressurgance of truly happy, optimistic music. I agree, even songs that are "happy" usually have an underpinning of "not for long."

Then again, I may be over-simplfing 60's music.
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #6 on: 06 Dec 2006, 05:25 »

This just reminded me of 60's music, the hippy stuff. "All You Need is Love." It's interesting that ever since the backlash against the optimism of the 60's, that there really hasn't been a popular ressurgance of truly happy, optimistic music. I agree, even songs that are "happy" usually have an underpinning of "not for long."

Then again, I may be over-simplfing 60's music.

Yep - 'She said I know what its like to be dead/i know what its like to be sad' - random Beatles lyric
Dylan's happiness is usually hard-fought, but people have written books on that
lots of the girl group bands had car crash/teen death songs
alot of the indie pop i listen to is happy on a superficial level... but even the tweest of the twee have an anknowledgment of mortality- my fave twee album is called 'In Case We Die', which is only dark when you're in a dark pit, but its still there

is the same thing true in dance music? obviously New Order, but what about truly popular music - the stuff that gets played on the radio and at clubs?
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camelpimp

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #7 on: 06 Dec 2006, 05:37 »

Yeah, I should qualify that.

There WAS 60's music that was truly optimstic. It just seems that nowadays that giddy happiness in a song is seen as false. Which was the point of the orgininal post, so, yeah. I was just thinking that there is, maybe, this does vary with different eras. Then again, I have the feeling that can be proven false.
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #8 on: 06 Dec 2006, 05:45 »

Yeah, I should qualify that.

There WAS 60's music that was truly optimstic. It just seems that nowadays that giddy happiness in a song is seen as false. Which was the point of the orgininal post, so, yeah. I was just thinking that there is, maybe, this does vary with different eras. Then again, I have the feeling that can be proven false.

There's alot of mainstream music that is giddily optimistic, as well as some 'indie' stuff- CSS' 'Music Is My Hot Hot Sex', anyone? The Grates? Its just that anything thats tottally optimistic feels false/bittersweet
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ScrambledGregs

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #9 on: 06 Dec 2006, 07:50 »

Let's ignore Christian music for now.

Let's ignore Christian music forever. I grew up with traditional Christian music forced on me since I regularly went to church until 6 years ago. I've heard contemporary Christian music, even what is considered punk/alternative/indie/whatever Christian music. It's only good if you yourself are Christian, otherwise it's tiresome and awful.
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Storm Rider

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #10 on: 06 Dec 2006, 07:58 »

Who says you have to only listen to music in lockstep with your beliefs anyhow? I listen to some music with Christian references (admittedly, very little, and it's not the major theme of the music), and some that talk about burning down churches and coating flaming swords in Christian blood. I don't agree with either, but that doesn't affect whether or not I enjoy the music. It seems to me that looking exclusively for artists that concur with your belief system but avoiding the music specifically created for it is unnecessarily limiting yourself.
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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #11 on: 06 Dec 2006, 08:14 »

There still are a few 'Christian' bands around that are worth listening to, regardless of your ideology; mewithoutYou is consistantly amazing, as are The Violet Burning.  I'm guilty of spending much of my school-age years avoiding anything that wasn't 'Christian', and now I kind of regret missing out on a lot of stuff that I love now.  I know people used to tell me that I was stupid for doing so, and I agree in retrospect, but I still think it's the same thing on the other side of the fence.  Just my opinion anyway.
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #12 on: 06 Dec 2006, 08:16 »

Let's ignore Christian music for now.

Let's ignore Christian music forever. I grew up with traditional Christian music forced on me since I regularly went to church until 6 years ago. I've heard contemporary Christian music, even what is considered punk/alternative/indie/whatever Christian music. It's only good if you yourself are Christian, otherwise it's tiresome and awful.

um
your icon....
the quote under your name...
they come from an album with the lines 'I love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you' in them.
Jeff Mangum meant those lines. like one of his friends said in the 33 1/2 book about it - "If it makes you feel better to think they're ironic, fine. But he meant them"
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Kai

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #13 on: 06 Dec 2006, 08:22 »

The difference there is that even though Jeff Magnum is serious, he doesn't make it such an overt theme that it takes precedence over the actual music, which is something alot of "christian" bands have problems with; they focus too much on the fact that they are a Christian band rather than the actual music itself, I think.
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #14 on: 06 Dec 2006, 10:40 »

The difference there is that even though Jeff Magnum is serious, he doesn't make it such an overt theme that it takes precedence over the actual music, which is something alot of "christian" bands have problems with; they focus too much on the fact that they are a Christian band rather than the actual music itself, I think.

I agree with you, but ScrambledGregs was saying "Let's ignore Christian music forever" while every post he makes pays tribute to a singer who uses Christian themes in his work, though its possible to ignore them... i think there's a tendency in indie fandom to assume that any mention of religion is ironic/un-serious when that might not be the case. I met a girl from Glasgow who goes to the same church as Stuart Murdoch - he is a believer, but that dosen't make his music any less good.
'Christian music' as a genre I can understand being not a good thing, but music that deals with Christian/Catholic themes is merely another way to understand this horribly bleak and pointless existence we find ourselves in. when my grandfather died i put on the overplayed Sufjan Stevens song because his faith/acceptance of the transitory nature of life helped
then again, listening to the Shins album today which dealt with things from an existential perspective sometimes helps and sometimes dosen't

basically the past few months has been about using music to understand/accept/rail againt the transitory nature of existence. how do genres explicitly focused on that - death metal, for example- handle it?

and, um, i should really be working. sorry, any board Aussies who use Liveguide to plan your weekends.....
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jcknbl

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #15 on: 06 Dec 2006, 12:08 »

I thought this post was super interesting and I don't think we should discourage long posts- just the insane ones.

Notselfcreated- What I find really interesting about your post is how your perspective of contemporary secular music seems so influenced by radio. Certainly radio, with its jumps from artist to artist, genre to genre would exagerate the disparate aesthetics and messages in popular music. Thats not to say your characterization is inappropriate just that you might find a different perspective if you listened to full albums by the acts you mentioned. For example, Modest Mouse obviously doesn't just sing about "not worrying so much". They have songs about the meaning of life, about how if God exists he's an asshole, about working class memories and about nonsense. So it isn't as if theres "a debate" in music as much as there is different artists with their own art that responds to different questions in different ways. But those questions and answers overlap. So Modest Mouse, Nine Inch Nails and Jay-Z can all have songs about sex- they take different approaches to the subject perhaps but it isn't as if their arguing or neccesarily have polar answers.

Hers my question to you though: Does music have to tell us the meaning of life? Does anything at this point? If we've spent all this time hunting down the secret to happiness and haven't found an answer why don't we just give up and fuck around with funky basslines, inexplicable spurts of outright noise and lyrics about sailors, buying new shoes and people who can see through walls?
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #16 on: 06 Dec 2006, 12:21 »

But with 'Float On' it is transcendent... or tries to be. I've listened to that album alot, and its like.. yeah, life is all this pain and death we'll imitate Tom Waits and stuff, but at the start you've got these two songs that just... get you through the morning. Thats what Float On and Ocean Breathes Salty are for me- you're feeling shit and exhausted and despairing, and they come on the radio or you put them on the Pod and for 3 minutes you're just... through. Things aren't okay, they're just... things you can accept and exalt in. Anthems, kinda... i collect them. Those two songs, some local stuff- Gersey's 'Gracie', some Panda Band, alot of the Flaming Lips - 'life is sad, we're going to die, but its okay, we all float on and we can JUST GET THROUGH THESE 3 MINUTES'

i dunno if thats coherant or whatever, but thats how i respond to music. and yeah i know thats mainstream indie... i get the same feeling from the new My Chemical Romance single. 'Life is short, death is scary, lets SING REALLY LOUDLY ABOUT IT AND ITS OKAY FOR 3 MINUTES'
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notselfcreated

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #17 on: 06 Dec 2006, 13:18 »

Yay, awesome discussion going on up ins.

jcknbl, though certainly songs can vary in terms of depth and superficiality, I don't think it's possible to write a song which doesn't at least have an implicit life meaning. I mean, look at Beastie Boys "Fight for your Right." (actually, it's hard to get more superficial than most 80's music). Yet even in the very act of celebrating and reveling in fleeting titillation, there is the at least implicit statement that such has an important place. You DO have to fight for your right to party. Amen. Again, part of the deposit of human wisdom. All work and no play, etc.

Inexplicable lyrics have a point too--even if that point is to say "fuck it"; or maybe a golden thread of significance can be woven through the seemingly unrelated words. Either way, the writer is expressing something implicitly true, even if that truth is merely that he or she is at a loss to say anything sensible about anything (which itself sort of expresses that one stands in epistemic rebellion against order and rationality, if just for the moment).

I'm particularly suspicious of groups that actually claim not to be expressing any ideas or opinions; to say so strikes me as either naive or disingenuous.

A point on Christian music. I've never personally been impressed by contemporary Christian-themed songs musically; but what bothers me more about them is that, IMO, they seem to cheapen Christianity. I keep a pretty wide division between my taste in religious music (which I like sacred and contemplative and tapping into ancient roots) and what I listen to on the radio, which I like hard and gritty. It's kind of a minority position, and doesn't win me much respect in local Catholic circles I'm afraid.

BTW, I used to think that Perfect Circle's "Judith" was a Christian song before I looked at the lyrics closer today. Oops.

Re: Storm Rider, I agree about listening to music that doesn't necessarily coincide with your beliefs. Well, sort of. Like I said, I have a hard time listening to NIN's lyrics, even though I think they're musical geniuses; same with Marilin Manson, Godsmack, and some others. *Sigh* I either want one of their members to "get religion" or for any Christian group to learn how to write music like they do. Interestingly, Metallica seems mostly neutral on religion.

Often, however, anti-religious music doesn't bother me because, frankly, I agree with it. There are lots of critiques of religion that, far from dissuading from faith, instead help distinguish between good and bad religiosity. One example is "Personal Jesus" (either version). Great song, and I even use it in religious ed. Another example is Jem's "They", which looks on the surface like a screed against religious authority, but I use it to encourage my students to ask questions and to question any authority (including secular ones and 'pop culture').

Also, jcknbl, you're right about me and the radio; I depend on it pretty heavily. But when I called the secular music world a 'debate' I  didn't mean it literally, in the sense that artists were arguing with each other. I meant rather that there is this cacophony of values and ideas which sort of randomly bump into each other. On the listener's end, it seems to me, we receive all of these and delight in their diversity even while we are haunted in some sense by the circularity and futility of our enjoyment. The songs are a "debate" in the sense that each calls univocal attention to its own message, only to be abruptly silenced and replaced by the next track which has no essential connection and may even be contradictory in spirit. Song after song (whether from the same artist or a random playlist) embody a sort of unspoken vain hope that at some point music will burst the threshold of infinity and take us to a place we haven't been before. Alas, we can only have a simulacrum of this experience by forgetting where we've been before.
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KharBevNor

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #18 on: 06 Dec 2006, 14:43 »

I used to say poo to the whole concept of Christian music, until Current 93 became one of my favourite bands. Although a lot of their earlier material had buddhist and thelemist elements, and they do have a sense of humour (as well as a strange, mystic/gnostic/apocalyptic take on Christianity heavily fuelled by dream interpretation, abstract art and, I suspect, not a little soft drugs), it remains that, two years ago, if you'd told me I would shortly discover that a song preaching against hard drugs and the occult in favour of the eternal bliss that can only be derived from the Christian experience (Current 93 - Horsey) then I'd have told you that you were nuts. Fact is that that song is one of the most beautiful things ever written. I'd also have said that if you'd said this same Christian band would also have a track called 'Happy Birthday Pigface Christus' and a mild lyrical obsession with kittens, but there you go.

Point is, Christian music exists far outside of what you might call the American CCM community. Another point I'd like to make is that the debate is not divided exclusively between Christianity and Secularism as far as a spiritual dialogue goes. Not only does secularism represent a quite considerable variety of viewpoints (everything from nihilism to anarchism, fascism, environmentalism, objectivism, communism etc.) and a spectrum between these viewpoints, with a consequent range of value systems, but also, Christianity is not by any means the only religion, just the only one evident in the sphere of popular culture (I had hoped perhaps the release of Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) new album might have added a muslim voice to the popular scene, but it seems not). Large amounts of the music I listen to has a very definite spiritual base completely apart from christianity.
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #19 on: 06 Dec 2006, 15:03 »

The 'Christian' artists I like are the ones that take Christian themes seriously - Jeff Mangum, Stuart Murdoch, Craig Finn are all searching for their PERSONAL vision of transcendence. Your average Christian rocker probably isn't going to sing about hoping there's a place in Heaven for Anne Frank's ghost (i'm being horribly reductionist here) or find Catholic parables (kinda) in the life of hardcore street kids and their drug-fucked lives (i should probably listen to something that isn't the Hold Steady). They also make music that isn't explicity about their Christianity- and when it bursts through its startling, like Mangum's heartfelt 'Jesus Christ I love you I love you Jesus Christ'. He sounds like he MEANS it and he FOUGHT FOR IT, whereas Scott Stapp from Creed just sounds.... lame. Nick Cave can be maudlin with his Christianity, but on a song like 'Breathless' he sounds amazed by God and the woman he's writing about - everything is literally 'breathless' without God and he's breathless without his woman.  Most of Bob Dylan's Christian songs are pretty lame, but 'Gotta Serve Somebody' still holds up... though mostly 'cause Dylan's one of those people with a gift, and even boring faith couldn't tottally destroy it for long

Leonard Cohen has Jewish/Buddhist themes in some of his works.

Sufjan Stevens seems like he makes more 'traditional' Christian music in the healing/beauitiful sense, but it still appeals to me

I have alot more to say about this, but i can't really form it. I basically try to find comfort in simple aphorisms from singers, but I say that too much.
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ScrambledGregs

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #20 on: 07 Dec 2006, 06:44 »

My point is, let's ignore music that overtly calls itself Christian. I like a fuckton of artists that have Christian themes and lyrics, I readily admit that. But it's not THE MAIN FOCUS of their art. Like Tommy said, Jesus by the Velvet Underground. That is one of my favorite songs of their's, but not because it's Christian. It's just a great fucking song that touches on spirituality. Same with Neutral Milk Hotel.

However, bands that are like OMG WE'RE JESUS FREAKS WE DON'T FIT IN ANYWHERE!! piss me off to no end. Christian metal. Christian punk. It makes me puke. If all your music is about is your religion, stop pretending you're on the level of more secular artists who have more varying themes.

Hell, I love Danielson and Sufjan Stevens, who are very Christian artists, but it's not the focus of their work. That's the difference.
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FireStarter

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #21 on: 07 Dec 2006, 07:15 »

I'm going to say here, as relatively terse as I can be, that the major problem with "Contemporary Christian" music today is MONEY. I have come to hold as a basic belief that any "christian" band on a "christian" label  is only after the seemingly captive audience who will shower money on them. The whole revival in these past few years has made being a Jesus freak "cool" or "hip" and listening to christian labels has become their mark of pride. All of the poorly written contemporary christian music is just a mirror of all the poorly written pop music out there. Different audiences, same goal. To pump out as much meaningless drivel as you can as fast as you can to make the most money in the least amount of time. There are OTHER christian bands out there that do more with less.

There are of course other things out there. Musicians that put on one face to attract the crowd they wish to mock. Someday I will hope to see that on a "Christian" label.  Jesus didn't preach about shepherds to tell Christians that they need to become sheep. Which is what has happened, it took a long time for the Catholic church to infect this change on the religion as a whole. I may be offensive to "notselfcreated" but it is offensive in a manner that I was offended by similar people in the past. I was raised Catholic, went to catholic schools, the whole nine and a half fucking yards. Then I made a mistake, I read the bible, and engaged in discussions with the educated Christians. "The Church" as you know it embraces some concepts that were spoken against by the Apostles. A sacrement based religion negates the purpose of christ's teachings. Being secure in your forgivness through a priest takes away from the one on one relationship a christian has with god. Removing all religious discussion from the Clergy (in the original definition the Clergy were the members of a church, not the priesthood.) Catholicism has become very much like the Jewish heirarchy that executed Christ at the beginning of it all. Most modern churches (methodist protestant catholic etc.) Let their church leaders do the theological thinking while they just be good little sheep and tithe and pray and attend church. Hence why "Contemporary Christian Music" succeeds today in it's current state and form. They put no thought into it because that thought would scare away their market. Go listen to Jethro Tull's Skating Away, if you don't see the undertones pointing to christianity then you need to listen harder.

Go read C.S. Lewis, not the overpopularized Chronicals of Narnia (a VERY christian series, but not his best indepth fictional christian work.) but Perlandra. And remember C.S. Lewis was an athiest who set out to disprove God, and proved himself wrong in the process...
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #22 on: 07 Dec 2006, 07:25 »

I thought Lewis underwent his conversion after conversations with Tolkien?
Man... there's musical irony for ya: a devout Christian writing books that inspired 'Satanic' bands. Don't alot of metal bands just follow one idealogy?
I actually find preachiness/idealogy in music boring. Dylan was interesting most when he wasn't a protest singer or a Christian- just a singer.
I can't diss Christianity so much, though - life is so scary and uncertain and death is so frightening that you need to cling to SOMETHING. ANYTHING.
*takes a deep breath*
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Will

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #23 on: 07 Dec 2006, 08:03 »

ScrambledGregs, you kind of hit the nail on the head with the money issue...right now, the 'Christian' entertainment industry as a whole is a HUGE market, be it music, art, film...anything, really.  The problem is, so many people out there have nothing to say.  Take bands, for example, because there has been such an explosion of growth in the CMI - almost rivaling the Jesus Movement of the 70's -  it is incredibly easy to experience a modicum of success as a Christian band.  In a capitalist system, you'd be an idiot not to exploit that.  So you end up with a glut of mediocre, bland tripe, that shamelessly copies the sounds of the current mainstream while also shamelessly whoring out some watered-down ideology so as to reach out to the largest market share.  90% of the bands on Tooth and Nail Records are perfect examples of this; one side of their mouths sings praises to the same figurehead as what the youth-group kids have been led to believe, while the other side claims "we're just Christians in a band" to keep the interests of the secular crowd.  I actually have far less respect for a band like that than I do for a band that is openly evangelical...I may not personally care to have their doctrine shoved in my face, so I avoid it myself, but sincerity and passion for one's ideals rings true in my ears, and I can at least respect the bands that are sold enough on their cause to be willing to take the cut in their audience (as well as their paychecks) for not watering down what they believe in. 

The problem with a significant portion of Christian music is that it just tries too hard to be a "safe and sanitized" version of whatever is out there right now.  Mom's love it because they can continue to shelter their kids from any kind of reality, and kids love it because it gives them that slight feeling of rebellion.  Hell, I am as guilty as they come; the first CD I ever owned was by The Newsboys - not because they were any good at all, but because it was rock-ish music that my mom couldn't complain about.  But when this is the audience you're pandering too, you open a door for all kinds of rockstar wannabees that have nothing to say to start playing cut-and-paste, fill in the blanks clonesongs.  Want to see a dead-on depiction of the tragic state of the Christian Music Industry?  Watch the Christians Rock! epsiode of South Park, they got it 110% right.

I subscribe to the theory that if you are an artist, and a Christian - or any other faith for that matter, but we'll leave it here for sake of argument - then your art should reflect your belief.  Not bludgeon it into people's skulls with a sledgehammer, but reflect it.  I feel that as a Christian musician, your priority should not be fitting the right number of JPM's (Jesus Per Minute's - this is a real term, people!) but to create the most engaging and dynamic art you can using the talents you've been gifted with, and to do so to the best of your ability.  This is where much of the CMI fails, and it's sad to see it happen.

This is probably the biggest rant I've made since I joined these forums, and mods, please let me know if I was out of line at any point.  I grew up closely involved in the "good" side of this industry, it's something that has deep roots in my past, and I really get upset seeing the artists that deserve recognition based on the merits of their art alone go unrecognized because of a guilt by association.

And to keep it from being to heavy handed,

DONGZLOL!!
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kokeyjoe

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #24 on: 07 Dec 2006, 08:21 »

...the first CD I ever owned was by The Newsboys...

Speaking of keeping it from getting too heavy-handed, Will, I feel the need to remind you that your first CD was The Newsboys; mine was Slayer's "Seasons in the Abyss" when I was in 7th grade.  If people were to look at you and me now, they would probably guess the complete opposite, haha.

Anyway, interesting comments.  Not that I know diddly about what's (un)acceptable posting around here, but I think you made some very valid complaints about the industry, and made them constructively.
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E. Spaceman

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #25 on: 07 Dec 2006, 08:23 »


Or maybe 'Lord Can You Hear Me?' by Spacemen 3 -


The Low cover is also mightyly fine.
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thepugs

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #26 on: 07 Dec 2006, 08:32 »

However, bands that are like OMG WE'RE JESUS FREAKS WE DON'T FIT IN ANYWHERE!! piss me off to no end. Christian metal.
Oy.
Why do you think that Christian metal/punk fits in with this "don't fit in" mentality?  In fact, I can't even think of that many Christian metal band that think this way, as compared to the number of secular bands cashing in on this idea (not for being overtly religious, but for "not fitting in").
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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #27 on: 07 Dec 2006, 08:49 »

Oy.
Why do you think that Christian metal/punk fits in with this "don't fit in" mentality?  In fact, I can't even think of that many Christian metal band that think this way, as compared to the number of secular bands cashing in on this idea (not for being overtly religious, but for "not fitting in").

Well, sure, but it seems a little less pretentious a lot of the time... Because if you're a christian, I'm having a hard time understanding how you "don't fit in":. Don't fit in how? You're part of one of the most commercially popular and unfluential religions to affect society generally. What don't you fit into? Other than other religions.

My grandparents are extremely christian, and they occasionally talk about not fitting in. It's generally bull. They say things such as "If you have a bible on your table and a neighbor comes over, they'll probably suddenly not want to stay long." Or "If you try to talk to someone about your religion, they wont want to talk long."  ...One, That's just weird.To the second, huh? I bet you might not want to talk much about another religion. In fact, I know they wouldnt. If a Buhdist said "hey, let's talk about Bhudism" they'd not want to. The only way being a christian could make you not fit in would usually be your fault, you trying to force something personal on others. Or if you're totally fixated on it. But then again, you'd fit into your group. The people who believe like you. That not good enough? Then you might want to start thinking about why christianity is the only thing you want to talk about and why you want to fit in with people who dont want you preaching to them.* And on a more on topic note, you may have to stop relying on the radio if you want good music. You need a CD player, because you're not going to find quality christian music on the radio. The radio stuff is bad to me because all the lyrics are ridiculously shallow, generally. "God saved me, I love God, Jesus is good. I don't listen to the devil. I am happy." And the instrumentation feels quite often lifeless. XP

*Note: I sort of went off point I think, I'm sorry, I have a bit of bitterness and such with religion. I have issues with it I rarely get ot address because of the people who surround me. So a lot of it builds up.

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jcknbl

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #28 on: 07 Dec 2006, 11:00 »

Song after song (whether from the same artist or a random playlist) embody a sort of unspoken vain hope that at some point music will burst the threshold of infinity and take us to a place we haven't been before. Alas, we can only have a simulacrum of this experience by forgetting where we've been before.

So in your opinion does this make music a futile enterprise? What should musicians try to do with their music?
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notselfcreated

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #29 on: 07 Dec 2006, 11:38 »

Music is futile only as regards our existential search for ultimate happiness. One could immerse himself in a vast sea of musical euphoria of every kind, and still in the end hit a glass ceiling that his very being would yearn to pass through.

But if I go any further I'll be preaching.

Also, FireStarter,
Quote
Jesus didn't preach about shepherds to tell Christians that they need to become sheep.

John Chapter 10, man. Baaaaa.
« Last Edit: 07 Dec 2006, 11:42 by notselfcreated »
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The Eyeball Kid

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #30 on: 07 Dec 2006, 12:16 »

Existential kick lately i've been on... basically, everything we do is denying we're going to die. Thats all it is. Life is futile, etc. Its really depressing. Really really frigging depressing
Everyone's got something that keeps them going. For me its music, though i don't play it and it ain't much of something... but its SOMETHING, ya know? And it keeps me going at my job, because even though i'm basically doing your normal data entry whatever job, the fact is that even Shitty Acoustic Night at The East Perth Bumblefuck Hotel is transcende for somebody, and putting in a date for that show keeps them going for another fucking day... and alot of the fucking bands touring this country get me through my meaningless bloody existence, so when i tell our many many readers going through the piontless treadmill above nothingness that is their lives that Joanna Newsom's show starts at 8 and that tickets are $50 from tickettek then i've given them the vain hope that a pretty girl with a harp singing strange words can for a second ease the pain of the finate existence that is humanity... so its not just data entry, dammit
'we suspend the notion that these lives ever do end'
so what i'm saying basically its all futile and useless, and people tell me i should go on, so i do, and when the pain has been eased lately its been because of You Am I playing loudly or MCR aknowleding it or Newsom tangling it in a skein of faith and poetry, even when she sings about dead things and dead people.....

hey look
i just had another existential breakdown
woohooo
so the point is i've got these Walkmen dates to add, and i'm sure the Walkmen saved your life for a second, but in the end its useless to struggle and the best art is the art that aknowledges that on the sly, which is basically all music, or confronts it like punk, 'cause if your'e yelling so loudly then maybe just maybe you can yell forever

pulp man
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT NOTHING LASTS FOREVER
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ScrambledGregs

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #31 on: 07 Dec 2006, 21:45 »

ScrambledGregs, you kind of hit the nail on the head with the money issue...

Don't ever confuse me with FireStarter again. EVER.
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Luke C

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #32 on: 07 Dec 2006, 22:02 »

Interesting points all round people. Especially notselfcreated of course since he (she?) started the thread in the first place.

As a Catholic I have found I can enjoy music which flies in the face of or outright attacks my faith (slyer for example). Of course Im a bit of an exception for most Christians (I like to think Im the world's most liberal Christian but thats a whole other thing).

A problem with music is (put crudely) you have:
1. Music with lyrics that mean something to everyone (The Clash as a random example)
2. Music with lyrics that means something to the person who wrote them but probably not to everyone else (A lot RHCP stuff)
3. Music with lyrics which don't have much of a serious meaning (like Dragonforce)

Depending on who you are most people, like myself, enjoy a combo of the above. The problem with a lot of music, especially post-grunge music, seems to be centered around whiny, self-centered lyrics. A band who exemplifies this is Megadeth. Killing is my Business and Peace Sells are about world issues but Youthanasia is more about emotions etc. of course a balance between the two is good but not all of one and none of the other.

On top of this as has been said, a lot of music is negative or if it positive its like "yay for 5 minutes" positive. Both of these are fine but you know lets have a little bit of optimism. But that aint what sells. Neither does music which examines faith, spirituality etc.

WARNING: this post may have made little sense. Sorry bout that, Im too tired to think properly.
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Will

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #33 on: 07 Dec 2006, 22:21 »


Don't ever confuse me with FireStarter again. EVER.

Shit...sorry, didn't mean to do that.  I just scrolled really fast and guessed at the avatar.  It won't happen again, promise.
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camelpimp

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #34 on: 08 Dec 2006, 06:06 »

How could I have forgotten to mention this?

My father was in a Christian rock band some 8 years ago. Oddly enough, they played in a club called White Rabbit (and San Antonioers here?) next to bands like "Pissing Razors." And some of their lyrics (okay, a lot) are kinda broad enough that they don't nesessarly have to be "Christian." It wasn't all up-beat stuff, either. Most of it wasn't, really.

Not sure what the point of that was, actually.
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notselfcreated

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #35 on: 09 Dec 2006, 10:19 »

existential breakdown

Quote from: Blaise Pascal
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.
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CutMan

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #36 on: 09 Dec 2006, 10:22 »

Unless he gets over it and lightens up.

People get so fixated on life after death that they forget they're alive.
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jcknbl

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #37 on: 09 Dec 2006, 11:18 »

That Pascal square shit is one of the stupidest things ever.
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TrueNeutral

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #38 on: 10 Dec 2006, 01:26 »

Personally I have trouble understanding the christian mindset so I thought this was a great read because it gave me a bit of perspective on a huge group of people.
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Bradwick

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #39 on: 10 Dec 2006, 13:06 »

I consider myself a devout Christian (not necessarily a good one mind you, I screw up all the time but I try) but I would have to agree that most Christian music isn't worthwhile.  I don't know if it's completely the fault of the artists though, as they are catering to what the industry is demanding.  The mainstream Christian community demands a sort of perfection of image that everything is perfect and right.  I think this carries over into the majority of the music as well.  The problem of course is that this is total crap and life isn't like this for anyone.  The result of this is that the music often feels incredibly fake, because it's about a lifestyle that doesn't really exist; which means the music is complete crap.

Quote
However, bands that are like OMG WE'RE JESUS FREAKS WE DON'T FIT IN ANYWHERE!! piss me off to no end. Christian metal.

As for Christian bands like metal or hardcore feeling like they don't fit in, that's probably because again, the mainstream Christian community presents this squeaky clean image and if you don't fit into that image you get a lot of crap.  Christians are horrible to each other in that manner (I've heard the saying "The Christian Army is the only one in the world that shoots its wounded and I think that's really appropriate) and I can understand how bands that don't fit into the super clean image would feel like outsiders.  Not only are they not accepted by the circles their music would normally be in, they're not accepted by their religion either.

Quote
Because if you're a christian, I'm having a hard time understanding how you "don't fit in":. Don't fit in how? You're part of one of the most commercially popular and unfluential religions to affect society generally. What don't you fit into? Other than other religions.

I think that's a great quote, even though I think Christians don't often "fit in."  But, I think this is mainly our fault.  Of course if we go around tell everyone that they can't do this and can't do that, we're not going to be real popular (random side note, as far as I can tell the only people Jesus told not to do certain things were those already following him.  The things he told his followers to do to those who would become non-Christians was to love them.  Too bad we usually don't do that.).  There is a lot of animosity towards Christians out there (just look at this thread and see how many people dislike Christianity/religion in general, and I can't say I don't blame them) but again, I think this is a box we've put ourselves in.  Because of that, it's very hard for Christian artists to break outside of the particular Christian niche, they're stuck making crappy music and movies because anything remotely looking or sounding like secular things is "of teh devil" so to speak and rejected.  Once again, our own fault for being so closed minded and bigoted but it sucks for people who could maybe make great music but couldn't get an audience for it.

I don't care for many Christian bands or artists personally because it doesn't feel real to me.  Even the Christian music they play doesn't feel like it relates to my Christianity at all.  The "Christian" music I do admire are those who take the stance of, "I'm a musician who is a Christian."  It's just like any job, I don't go to my work going, "I'm a Christian computer tech," it's just ridiculous and I think it's the same thing with the arts.  Christian music is total crap 'cause for the most part we're narrow minded and bigoted and force our musicians to make crap music.  I think we probably deserve it.
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KharBevNor

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #40 on: 10 Dec 2006, 14:17 »

WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

What's so depressing about the idea that nothing lasts forever? There's at least as many bad things as good things in this world, if not far more, and probably as many bad people as good people. As a pagan, I derive extreme solace from the idea that the awesome might of nature supercedes them all. Every pathetic little Hitler and Napoleon, they'll all die, their sordid empires will all crumble, their evil will seep from the world like so much drainwater. Evil DOES die, but good, in the form of nature and freedom, is eternal. Long after the last nazi dies, children will still laugh, people will still make love, eat good food, etc. etc. Your children will one day be free.

I've never understood nihilism, at least not the moaning whining teenage sort. Why do you stop at the idea that life has no meaning? Surely the next logical step from that is to give it meaning, and that's the most joyful process ever. The fact that the realisation that there is no higher power to guide you or legitimise you makes you scared and depressed is proof that you have been completely encultured to your slavery. It should be the most liberalising, joyous moment of your life. I always like to think of that moment in V for Vendetta (the comic of course), when Finch has his revelation under the influence of LSD.

"Who keeps me in this prison except...me?"
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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #41 on: 10 Dec 2006, 14:39 »

I have got to finish reading V for Vendetta.

Also, maybe its just me, but I find the idea that there is no omnipotent higher power glorious. It means that we are not imperfect, flawed shadows of a judgemental higher being, rather that the conciousness we share is precious, because there is so little of it. The idea of any kind of afterlife completely devalues the wonder of what we have now to me.
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CutMan

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Re: An outsider's look at contemporary music.
« Reply #42 on: 11 Dec 2006, 00:20 »

Also, maybe its just me, but I find the idea that there is no omnipotent higher power glorious. It means that we are not imperfect, flawed shadows of a judgemental higher being, rather that the conciousness we share is precious, because there is so little of it. The idea of any kind of afterlife completely devalues the wonder of what we have now to me.

That is exactly what I think. Live people, live, have some fun.

And does V for Vendetta have more than one volume or just the one? I'm wanting to read it.
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