Saturday, February 4, 2012

U2 and Stravinsky: Kindred Spirits

Last night I read a fascinating article comparing U2 and Stravinsky. And Henry the cat thought it was the most interesting thing he ever saw in his whole life, ever.

Being on the faculty at Baylor University, I receive quarterly copies of a journal called Christian Scholar's Review. Each issue has half a dozen-ish articles from Christian scholars from all over the country.  Most of the time my cat and I can't even understand the titles of the articles; frequently they're high-level pieces on linguistics, or philosophy, or other topics outside my field of expertise. But once or twice a year an article captures my attention, reaches into my soul, and compels me to work past my unfamiliarity. The result is I do the reading-equivalent to sitting in the driveway, unable to stop listening to something on my car's radio.

For example, in 2003 I read an article called "Finding God in Prozac or Finding Prozac in God: Preserving a Christian View of the Person Amidst a Biopsychological Revolution" by Michael Boivin.  Are we still the same person if we alter our brain chemistry? Are we conformed less (or is it more?) to image of God when we use pharmacological assistance rather than when we languish in depression or anxiety?

Then in 2009 I read "International Development: Christian Reflections on Today's Competing Theories" by Roland Hoksbergen, Janel Curry, and Tracy Kuperus.  Are the prevailing theories about international development overly reductionist when they focus on culture, politics, economics, and geography?  ls their explanatory power limited by inadequate understanding of the whole person, an understanding of which the Christian worldview has much to say?

[My cat, Henry, helps me not take myself too seriously.]

Last night I read "U2 and Igor Stravinsky: Textures, Timbres, and the Devil" by Dan Pinkston.  It compared the Irish rock stars to the Russian composer and draws parallels in the way they favor texture over melody and harmony, both breaking tradition with the established norms of their times.  They even use similar musical "chords" that are not chords. The 0-2-5-7 pitches together, for example, defy the traditional naming nomenclature, being neither major nor minor, and are found in both their masterpieces,The Rite of Spring and Bullet the Blue Sky from the Joshua Tree recording. 

And at an even deeper level "...the way in which they respectively grapple with fame from the perspective of Christian faith is instructive. There is effectively a tension between fame and Christian humility that enlivens the music of both. Since neither U2 nor Stravinsky explicitly labeled themselves as 'Christian' artists, yet produced music that is at the forefront of their genres, they serve as models of how art of Christians can function outside the confines of the Christian establishment."

I agree. In fact, I would say that Bono (U2's singer) is a hero of mine because of the way he uses his gifts: influentially, outside the confines of the Christian establishment, and yet boldly fighting for that which is right as defined by orthodox Christianity. May I use my gifts half as well.

Near the end the article says "For both Stravinsky and the four members of U2, music was and continues to be a fundamental means of personal expression and inevitable vocation... Both U2 and Stravinsky have left us with a large body of work that is broadly influential, deeply human in meaning, an at times, exquisitely beautiful.  The spiritual substance of their output is also part of the lasting legacy. Works that artfully speak to the spiritual concerns such as joy, sadness, good, evil, longing, and praise will long outlive the musicians themselves."

While reading the article I thought of the U2 concert I attended a while back. I shot this video of the fans singing "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". I used to not understand this song. It seemed to be expressing a dissatisfaction or incompleteness with the Christian faith, a dissatisfaction that apparently collided with the content of their other songs which embraced or defended it.  But finally I realized this song is about dissatisfaction with the world as it is today, full of problems and pains. He is singing about the longing for a better place. He is a sojourner in this world. He longs to live in heaven, in the Kingdom of God, where mercy and justice are not marred and polluted and his personal searching and striving can at last be satisfied.  Let it be, Lord.