Post-Christian Gospel

November 16, 2017

Last night J-Gold, Puga and I participated in the Greencastle Homeless No More benefit for the town Homeless Shelter. We followed some of the most accomplished musicians from this eerily musical town. It was a love fest, no doubt, but folks were worthy of the love. I was really nervous – everybody else was playing meditative or earnest songs, full of passion and moral seriousness, and all we had was edge and irony and late night city saloon. But Alex stripped paint from the wall on the harp, and J, big as a house, being 9-months pregnant with a nascent boy (I thought she might belt out more than a song on stage – already two of the three of us had birthdays yesterday, why not a fourth?), sounded like she was singing at the 5 Spot, all low and sultry and putting the provincials in a trance, dreaming of NYC.  I was playing my shaman ’76 Telly Deluxe, a relatively rare species of Fenders, with fat pickups that can sound like the aftermath of a hurricane, or as rich as a B-3. I have been playing acoustic on all our recordings and in gigs – a beloved Yaari (I have two identical ones, in case anything happens to one of them) – but now I wanted to do a little hypnosis. Set to what I call “Spooky Pops Staples” settings – i.e., high tremolo, high reverb, and totally unhurried attitude – I hadn’t played that instrument with the group before. What if it sounded tinny and detached? Well, it was rich. With adequate tremolo you don’t have to do much, as long as the rate is right. It was like a hammock, and J and Alex just rocked in it. That said, the most fascinating performance was by Bobbie Ann Lancaster, one of the most accomplished performers in town, and in a broad radius. In a church combo that seemed to be mainly composed of preachers (the real advantage of Protestantism is that you can preach without approval from on high), she sang full-throated gospel and preached without compelling. I love gospel – well, old school gospel. When I taught for a while in Boston, I had to drive my gigantic old Pontiac beater from Somerville to Roxbury every morning, and back in the evening. (In later years, I opted for the bus. Much longer, but much less stressful. Category: driving in Boston). I listened to the same radio station each way –  in the mornings, it played black gospel music, and in the evenings, soul. It struck me how similar the styles were, even then. The Renaissance thing: love of god become love of eros. I liked it. I liked both. I write a lot of tunes with a gospel vibe, but of course how do you write lyrics to that when Jesus is not your savior? Still, I love the joy of gospel music, and its confidence. I’ve written some Buddhist gospel tunes, but it’s still an iffy proposition. I think I’m about to embark on field work collecting post-Christian gospel. It beats romantic melancholy, that’s for sure. So, to start it off I was listening to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s rendition of the Woody Guthrie’s “This Morning I am Born Again” set to Slaid Cleve’s melody.  




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