Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke. My new Pandora station has been helping to keep me sane. I should be depending on the Lord for that, but I ask you: who else could have made Patsy Cline? Music always makes me think of colors, and Patsy is a deep, breathless blue, like a summer sky at midnight.

Thank God for Pandora, too, because all of my old music is so saturated in memories that I can hardly listen to it. You know how it is: just a few measures and you are back in another era of life, with all the joys and anxieties you felt then. Passing my fingers through my CD collection turns my hand into a geiger counter.

Amy Winehouse takes me back to the coffee shop, grading papers and cursing the recalcitrant hides of my beloved, thickheaded students. Espinoza Paz puts me in the car, driving through Phoenix’ summer blaze, like a fly looking for somewhere to settle and something cool to drink. Beirut’s Slavic wailings and anachronistic trumpets bring me back to a Colorado mountain range, on a solo road trip to from Phoenix to Boulder, melancholy and anticipatory: always traveling, never arriving.

Classical music doesn’t have the same effect. Does that speak well for classical and ill for pop, or are they just two different beasts? When I hear Bartok’s 4th string quartet, I don’t think of the first time I heard it; I can’t even remember the first time I heard it, any more than I can remember the first time I saw the moon. I know Bach’s 5th English Suite like I know the road home; I can hum the melody and even the counterpoint (is there any difference in Bach?) without thinking, but somehow it remains what it has always been, the same inexorable mapping of unseen mysteries.

Lewis calls God so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to Him.1 Maybe the same is true, or can be true, of music. Pop is receptive: it succeeds insofar as it provides us with a vessel that conforms to the contours of our own personalities, something to be filled with the parts of us that we can’t contain. But classical music fills us, penetrates us, rather than the other way around.

Bach and Bartok are impervious to me and my memories. God bless them both.

1 See Ransom’s speech in That Hideous Strength: “You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud irruptive, possessive thing — the gold lion, the bearded bull — which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.”

29 Comments on “Pierced”

  1. Ron says:

    You should be depending on the Lord to help keep you sane? Maybe it’s the Lord who sent music into your life to do just that.

    I’m doing some serious reflecting as Advent begins, or am trying to anyway. The Lord comes to His people in three ways: in history, in mystery, and in glory. He has come in history as the child of Mary, and he will come in glory at the end of time. In between, he comes to us daily in mystery, in hidden and often unexpected ways. He comes to us in the Eucharist, certainly, but also in the people and events of our everyday, often humdrum, lives. Maybe music and art are among the ways he comes to us, adding a little beauty to our lives.

  2. Joe says:

    Better watch out making objective comments about art, Steve. People get all angry. No, but I do think this is an incredibly astute observation. And accurate. That said, I do often find myself defending pop music against criticism even though I actually find it vastly inferior to other music. I’ve noticed that the people who are most willing to say that all art is subjective and just a matter of taste (etc. etc) are also the most eager to criticize pop music. I’ve never quite understood that.

    It usually goes something like this; Me: “This pop song has some objectively strong parts about it. It’s just not very good as far as art goes.” Friends: “What? Objective? You thinking it’s good is just your opinion. But this song is absolutely horrible, and you’re an embarrassment for even liking it.”

    How was your Thanksgiving by the way, Steve? I like Thanksgiving, but I always get a little depressed by it. I see my brothers and their wives, and I see my parents happy that their children are paired up and safe, and then I feel guilty and out of place. Then I think, “Well, maybe I could find a really nice, understanding girl.” And then I think about all of that and get a little bit down on myself. I assume this same sort of thing happens to you?

    No one in my family knows about me and my situation, so I think everyone mostly just thinks I am unlucky with the ladies. That actually bugs me a little bit. A lot even. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me for failing at something I’m not even trying. I guess it also bugs me because I try very hard to remain sexually pure, and everyone just looks at me like I’m some dork who’s too embarrassed to ask a girl out on a date. Not that they have to look Up to me for overcoming something very difficult or for being some martyr. I just wish they didn’t look Down on me for something that isn’t even true.

    Anyway, I hope all’s well.

  3. Marc says:

    ‘Bartok and Bach are impervious to me and to my memories’; I think you may be onto something, although I’m not sure what. Do wonder, however– now that you mention this– if the fact that ‘popular music’ has never been anything but a minor part of my music ‘library’, as it has developed over 40 years, has to do with what you’ve described. Interesting speculations for the beginning of Advent; thanks!

  4. Liz says:

    Simple minded comment: you used to live in Phoenix? I grew up in Prescott and spent a few years in the Tempe-Meds area. I’ve been in Minnesota the past 20 years but I don’t think being raised in the desert ever really leaves ya’.

    Shout out to fellow desert rat. 🙂

    1. I’m a New England boy at heart, but lived in Phoenix for a year and a half and still miss it.

  5. Liz says:

    Dang auto correct…I meant Mesa not meds. Lol.

  6. Liz says:

    I know what you mean…those winter desert nights are beautiful. But I really did hate how the streets would flood every time someone took a shower. 🙂

  7. Manny says:

    What do you think of Lady Gaga and all the other artist that supposedly sold their souls to the devil for fame and money? do you think that she is really Catholic or is she lying?

    1. Brother B says:

      Personally, I feel that if Lady Gaga were really Catholic, or even Christian, she wouldn’t dress herself like she does or promote anti-Christian messages like she does in her songs. She wouldn’t behave in a way that seeks to incite lust in those watching her perform.

      As for Marilyn Manson… or anyone else who has sold their soul to the devil, they are in serious need of Christ, obviously

  8. brozzerb says:

    Patsy Cline had one of the most transcendant voices of the last one hundred years in America… She has the ability to make her pain and hunger for love go like an arrow right through the heart. Just listen to the catch in her voice at the end of “Faded Love”, or how she sings “Crazy” (recorded in just one take… try that one, Lady Gaga or Rhianna!).

    I admit that the only celebrity grave that I have ever visited is that of Patsy. Hope to sing with her in heaven

  9. Theresa Zoe says:

    You wrote this post on my wedding day 🙂 and actually is perfect for me on that day. I will forever remember the Communion Meditation song and how I sang it to my husband and the transcendence we both felt and experienced; and while I will remember our first dance song (“Forever” by the Beach Boys) and the Daddy/Daughter dance and Mother/Son dance songs, the emotional weight is not the same. And I love Patsy Cline.

  10. Michael Kirk says:

    Thanks for referencing That Hideous Strength. I’ve never met a piece of fiction that so completely explores the City of God and the City of Man at war in every man, woman, association, and nation. Thanks also, as always, for sharing your soul with us, as it is, through the clarifying lens of gifted prose. Peace, brother.

  11. Manny says:

    would you say that listening to people who sold their souls to the devil for fame and riches, if thats true, would make you a satan worshipper. I have not been listening to any music lately in fear that listening to them would make me one of them.

  12. Liz says:

    Manny, check out Josh Garrels. Very cool Portland Christian music. No worries.

  13. Melissa says:

    Just wanted to stop by your blog and tell you how awesome it is that you found your way home to Christ. I read your article “After the desert…” at OSV and thought “good for him!” I may not have SSA but I’m single and almost 40…but b/c of Christ the single life in service to the King of Kings sounds pretty rockin’ to me.

    When it comes to SSA, yes the world tells you there are alot of “no’s”…but I see nothing wrong in saying “no” to the death and destruction that come from homosexual behavior. I see your choice of life to be one big “yes!” Yes to life. Yes to wholeness, strength, healing, wisdom and a wild path that is yours alone. A yes to capturing real love via your soulmate: Christ…who is very much alive and well in this reality. A yes to to the eternal family of God that will never leave you nor forsake you. A yes to joy. A yes to peace. A yes to iron friendships, family and faith. So many yes’s…I am glad to call you my brother and if I could use a Star Trek transporter you would be enveloped in a fierce 10 minute hug right now:+)

    I’m so glad the veil was removed and you saw the joy that awaits you now and forever in Christ. God bless you always!

  14. Katie says:

    I love Patsy Cline… fantastic. I’ve found myself in the same situation with music. I hate the nostalgic ache that comes with much of the music I have enjoyed through my life, so I find myself avoiding it completely. Though a lot of the music I love I found before I came into the faith so there are a lot of negative memories tied into it. But listening to Classical music it seems to flow through me rather than manipulate me, and fill me rather than infiltrate me… if that makes any sense? I’ve been doing a lot of research on music, the theology of it, and its affect on us, the capability of manipulation through it, as well as how some artists music is intentionally cursed, affects on our subconscious, the truths of back-masking, and most important the beauty and truth that God made us as musical creatures, sponges even, and therefore are easily influenced by it… it is pretty incredible, and very intense. And I think it is important to be careful to what you listen to… particularly to the less obviously satanic… its easy enough to avoid the blatant ridicule of Christ… but its amazing how we absorb the messages in music. Like ‘be true to your heart’, ‘you’re perfect the way you are’, ‘dont change’, ‘do what you want’, and the casual attitudes toward sexuality, and the hateful and scoffing attitudes towards morality God and chastity. Some of the most satanic music out there is the most subversive. Even taking for example a song that I always get stuck in my head… ‘My Sweet Lord’ by George Harrison… and that was an intentional manipulation to affect Christians! ARG! I want to sing to God then find myself with ‘hare krishna’ repeating in my head. And satan likes screwing with us in ways like this. Guard yourself… I have a friend that pretty much only listens to Gregorian Chant LOL may not always be easy, but I would imagine blessed to choose music that is exclusively infused with Love of our Savior. (as far as GAGA, just watch her ‘Judas’ video and tell me who she worships, it brings me to tears and makes me nauseous, pray for His lost little lamb)

  15. Katie says:

    also… quick note… my mom pointed out to me the other day when we were listening to Patsy in the car… that her voice is what makes the tune… the music is just back ground… that’s pretty unique really and funny I never noticed.

  16. Manny says:

    but it’s not just lady gaga. Lady gaga just does it for publicity and its more shocking to us. There are other artists that “sold their soul” that dont show it so blatantly.

    P.S. Liz , I bought Josh Garrels album and it is ok.It’s soothing and relaxing and i like it, but i want to listen to pop, dont they have christian pop?

  17. MAMaK says:

    The only Christian pop of which I can think is in Spanish. Wanna’ learn a new language? 🙂 I love music (going to college for music education and linguistics)! It’s such a part of my life. God bless the music we write and to which we listen! it has such power to change us for good and for bad. let it always be for good! PAX

  18. Mark from PA says:

    Interesting comments about music. I still enjoy the old R & B songs. A lot of today’s music is too harsh for my ears. I do like some of the popular songs though. Some of Lady Gaga’s songs are OK. Yes, I know that she is Catholic. I think “Born This Way” has a positive message for young kids. A lot of kids are bullied and songs like this help. When I was a teen, music really helped me.

    1. A lot of today’s music is too harsh for my ears too. Like maybe from 1920 on, some days.

  19. rick says:

    Richard Rohr?
    It seems to me that Richard ministers to those with SSA in a way that condones sin.
    I’ve heard him quoted by people who I believe have no desire to reign in their gay passions. I’ve also heard him quoted by people who I believe are being celibate.
    Rick in Oregon

    1. Welp, never heard of him ’till now, but: Wikipedia says he’s into Enneagrams (strike one), presided over a lesbian “wedding” (strike two) and, yeh, the list goes on.

      1. Brother B says:

        Yeah, if you listen to Catholic Answers Live, the monthly segment on “The New Age Deception” with Sharon Lee Giganti mentions Rohr almost every time, at least recently. He writes books that promote New Age spiritual themes. Don’t have all the details, but check out Catholic Answers or Mrs. Giganti’s site. Pretty frightful, some of the things he says.

  20. Manny says:

    OMG!!! I know spanish and basically its all I’ve been listening to lately such as Vicente Fernandez, because i think that spanish music is like not in some secret society because in December they go to the Vatican and sing to the Virgin de Guadalupe., which i think it’s cool and sweet.

  21. liz says:

    I used to really like Richard Rohr. He’s been around forever (had lunch with our family when I was 12…I’m coming up on 50 now). However, in the past decade or so (may have been sooner), I’ve noticed him becoming increasingly involved in creation type spiritualities as well as feminist based theologies.

    He says he’s a devout Catholic, but it’s difficult for me to listen to him for very long and be convinced of that.

    Back to music, has anyone listened to any of Sarah Hart’s work? She has a cd out titled “Saintsong” which is made up of ancient prayers of the saints. I think it is beautiful.

  22. Ellen says:

    Ah, the music of Patsy Cline: one of the great temporal delights. No apologies. Whatever one thinks of Cline’s messy life or Winehouse’s tragic antics or the scandal that attended Cooke’s death, their music could be amazing. (“Love Is a Losing Game” surely made up for a lot.) This brings to mind the old saying about God writing straight with crooked lines … I have no doubt that music’s inspiration & comfort come from Him, whether composer & performer intend so or not.

  23. Sammi says:

    Just discovered your blog and I’m loving it! Keep up the good work spreading the Good News!

  24. Eleanor says:

    Manny, I’d recommend these artists if you haven’t heard them already:

    Sufjan Stevens
    Sam Cooke
    The Stanley Brothers
    Denison Witmer
    damien jurado
    Aaron Sprinkle

    However, I wouldn’t really call any of these “pop.” I don’t think you necessarily have to limit yourself to only Christian artists or Christian-themed music. A heart surgeon is either good or bad, regardless of his faith. I’m assuming you’d go to a trained, agnostic heart surgeon over a devout Christian one with absolutely no experience if you had to have an operation.

    I think as long as you listen to music that has a positive message (this absolutely excluded Lady Gaga. And this is to say nothing of her talent, which is zilch and empty, soulless songs) and brings out the best thoughts in you, then it doesn’t matter if the actual artist is Christian.

    As Ellen said, God writes straight with crooked lines and whether or not the performer intends, some of music’s greatest comforts probably come from him.

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