Is Bob Dylan’s “False Prophet” About Jesus?

 

false prophet

False Prophet

WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
1.
Another day without end – another ship going out
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in
2.
Hello Mary Lou – Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too

3.
I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

4.
I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls

5.
What are you lookin’ at – there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me
Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain side

6.
You don’t know me darlin’ – you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no False Prophet – I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head

7.
I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love – I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat
I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

8.
Put out your hand – there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth – I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil – look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill

9.
Hello stranger – Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule – you got a poisoned brain
I’m gonna’ marry you to a ball and chain

10.
You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile – somethings got to give
I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Copyright

© 2020 by Special Rider Music

 

 

 

 

Is Bob Dylan’s amazing song “False Prophet” about Jesus? More accurately, is the person speaking in the song meant to be Jesus? I think that we can count out the possibility that the song portrays Bob Dylan himself singing, unless we attribute to him a vast amount of megalomania expressed in lines like:

I’m first among equals – second to none

I’m the last of the best – you can bury the rest

Also, some of the statements of the singer seem quite impossible to attribute to Bob Dylan, amazing as he is. For he sings,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head;

I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail . . .

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet . . .

. . . I forgot when I died.

Moreover, the main line, “I ain’t no false prophet” may well be a claim that the singer is a true prophet, which then makes sense of the rest of the song. Of course Jesus Christ was not merely a prophet, although the New Testament portrays him prophesying things like the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies before the present generation of Israel was passed away. (See Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:20-31.)

This represents part of a negative case that the song is not meant to portray Dylan’s own “voice.”  But the stronger case is the positive one – the lyrics that together paint a portrait of some mysterious person or the persona thereof who “ain’t no false prophet.” I think that the overall portrait only makes sense if this person is Jesus, but particularly Jesus in a Christian trinitarian sense wherein Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit together are somehow (and confusedly so) one God. This means that the “making sense” may not necessarily be fully comprehensible as we will see.

The best way to try to demonstrate my thesis is to consider each of the ten stanzas in order and make some observations and propose various possibilities of meanings. I will call the persona “the Prophet” to keep things simple, but we will see that he is much more than that, and most probably divinity such as is “part” of the Triune God known in Christianity. (Of course that is the understanding of God that Dylan has specifically related himself to in times past and also related to others in his songs.)

In the first stanza the Prophet begins with “another day without end” – a reference to God’s point of view wherein “a day is as a thousand years?” (See 2 Peter 3:8) The “ship going out” perhaps signaling a feeling of homelessness – “Like a Rolling Stone.” The words  “Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt” seem to establish a “status quo” for the present nature of life. But the Prophet again seems to exist differently in relation to time than any ordinary human being, saying, “I know how it happened – I saw it begin.” Did the Prophet see creation itself, or the “fall of man” into sin? The closing line of this stanza is perhaps the most interesting and difficult to interpret of all:

I opened my heart to the world and the world came in.

Because of the development in the second stanza, it seems that this opening to and coming in of the world are positive occurrences. This statement then provides the ultimate context which is the relation of the Prophet, perhaps now also claiming to be the creator (John 1:1-3), to the world. The French philosopher activist, and Christian mystic Simone Weil proposed that when God first created something other than God’s self, that God was voluntarily performing an act of renunciation of God’s self. And in the giving of free will to human agents, God was also granting them independence and also creating the possibilities (and therefore “risk”) of relationship. What Dylan recognizes is the effect this has on God whose love was thereby “opened” to the world. The world coming in shows that God’s love did not diminish even when the world went astray. (This has huge applications to Christian life and what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “this worldliness.”

In the second stanza the Prophet introduces “Mary Lou” and “Miss Pearl” who seem to recall the relationships Jesus had with several Mary’s (his mother and Mary Magdalen) and their characters as being “Pearl” like. The rest of the stanza sings their praises and “fills in” important details of the ways “the world came in” so that these women are actually became “guides from the underworld” to Jesus just as humans in general were so for God from the beginning. The closing line of this stanza shows that some humans can “mean business” just as the Prophet does. In other words, some humans are “in sync” with God’s purposes – leading right to the next stanza.

The third stanza has the Prophet saying that he is the “enemy of treason” (revolt against God’s loving governance?) and of “strife” (bad love relationships between God & man and man & man?) He seems especially against “the unlived meaningless life” demonstrating that the Prophet is not arbitrarily against things, but against what is unprofitable for the loving human life God intended. The last line wondrously portrays the Prophet’s “heart” for the world either as himself “lonely” or seeking those “only the lonely” can go to.

I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know

I go where only the lonely can go

This is a far cry from Christopher Hitchens’ view of God as a totalitarian “Big Brother” who has 24/7 surveillance watching over all of his human creations to see if any are “out of line” and due for eternal punishment for not being perfect as God is.

The fourth stanza seems to wax more traditionally prophetic wherein this Prophet surpasses all other previous prophets (as was said in a historical sense of John the Baptist) and also in rendering a “judgment” of nakedness (a familiar image of Judgment for Dylan as in “It’s Alright, Ma – I’m only Bleeding”) and death for the materially rich (another image Dylan has used as in “Seven Curses” and even “The Times They Are A-Changin”). But Dylan has the Prophet nevertheless praying (or recommending others’ praying) “for their souls” so that the temporal “judgment” is a means to a better end for them.

The fifth stanza tantalizes with the Prophet, if one was to try to see him, as being beyond sight – with a cool breeze encircling him. Is this a reference to the prophet as the Holy Spirit, or at least in intimate relation with the Spirit? Is the next line, inviting the one addressed to “a walk in the garden,” meant to evoke Eden where “Adam and Eve” “heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 3:8) Note that the Hebrew word for “spirit” is also translated as “wind” and “breath.” Tying this stanza together as the Prophet is or exists in the Spirit’s “cool breeze.” The last line portrays the peace in Eden with God with the shade and fountain being other common biblical images of God’s kingdom peace.

The sixth stanza builds on the strange appearance (or non-appearance) of the Prophet as “ghostly.” Is this a way that Dylan says that Jesus, though presently unseen and only known through the Spirit, is nevertheless still a tangible incarnate human being existing beyond our present field of vision? But the Prophet is also just as tangible as any real flesh and blood prophet: not a false prophet; he “said what he said” just as he also “knows what he knows.” What is interesting here is that Dylan seems to be saying that the Prophet is engaging in prophetic speech and acts now, even if seemingly “invisible” to us at the present. Is Dylan insisting that Jesus is presently the Lord of all? Of course that’s the basic Christian confession and Dylan has never repudiated what he once said quite clearly in his “Born-again Christian” phase and has dropped many more subtle hints to that effect throughout his songs since that time. Fittingly so, the prophet proclaims,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head.

But what that “vengeance” means we have already seen to some extent and will see more of as not the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” but rather “sinners in the hands of a loving God.” The former is apt to view God’s angry vengeance as paramount; the latter more-so God’s loving grief. Of course there is undoubtedly a harmony (or maybe a hierarchy?) of God’s attributes that sometimes is misrepresented in theological formulations and common religiosity. I think vengeance is proper, but get the feeling from Dylan that for him it fits within an understanding of a pre-eminently loving God, more than in a pre-eminently just God.

The seventh stanza opens with the Prophet’s search for the holy grail – an interesting turn of phrase if this is the search of Jesus for what would be a holy grail to him – perhaps the relationship with humans God’s love longingly desires and seeks. To that end he sings songs of love and betrayal, of course Jesus having known those intimately in his earthly life. (Note the hierarchy of love, and then betrayal in that lyric.) To that end he didn’t care about purity laws regarding food and drink, nor the purity of those he sat at table with which brought him into considerable trouble with “society”. And to that end, in the Prophets search for the his holy grail he summarizes his sacrifice:

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

It is also important to remember that “mountain” is a common biblical image of human government and that Jesus spoke of a mountain that needed to be overcome in his very day and instructed his followers to pray for that result. (See Mark 11:23)

We can also note that in the artistic image of the “False Prophet” the shadow image is of a hanging dead man – the only change is from the crucifixion tree to the lynching tree – a theme also used by Dylan and also by theologians such as James Cone who see victims of unjust societies participating in the cross of Christ. It is also appropriate that this song “False Prophet” shows how Christ has generally appeared to many or most, perhaps being evil or bringing death, with only the shadow revealing the truth that Christ’s own sacrificial death as a scapegoat overcame evil and death. It seems that the illustration of “False Prophet” may plainly be showing, through h shadow, that the song is about Jesus.

The eighth stanza has the Prophet addressing the wayward desires of we “poor devils”  and what God “gives” to us when we insist on such “rewards” – all the while the aforementioned “mountain” of man being overshadowed as shown in the video:

The City of God is there on the hill

The ninth stanza opens with the Prophet calling his addressee “stranger” when before he had said “darlin.'” Perhaps this is a different subject being addressed, perhaps even the devil himself – “you rule the land but so do I” showing the conflict and also that the Prophet (Jesus) is the one who really rules now. He calls the stranger “you lusty old mule” and characterizes him with “a poisoned brain.” Therefore he will be married to a “ball and chain.” Perhaps a reference to Revelation 20:1-2 where the devil is bound with a chain for “a thousand years.”

The tenth and final stanza has the Prophet again addressing a “darlin'” and saying that with his kind of life (of love) that when she smiles in response to his smile – “something’s got to give. Because the Prophet is not only “no false prophet” but also “nobody’s bride.” This is probably not meant to demean marriage, but rather to say that in the marital imagery common to the Bible, God is never the bride and humans are always the bride – and sometimes that to the wrong groom, for there is only one rightful bridegroom. As Dylan sang quite some time ago “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.” Possibly Dylan is  using that imagery here with Jesus still waiting for his wayward bride that he created and opened his heart to, from the beginning. The closing line of the song is quite interesting:

Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Of course none of us remembers being born but from the mouth of this Prophet that seems to take on added significance, perhaps alluding to something like what theologians call the eternal generation of the Son in the triune relationship of Father/Son/Spirit. The Prophet forgetting when he died could signify that God’s forgetfulness is perhaps a truly perfect forgetting, as God says that our sins he will remember no more. Perhaps the historic death of Christ who was the eternal Word was life itself  is now forgotten, just as mortality itself is according to scripture to be swallowed up by life and immortality.  (See John 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:50-56)

At any rate, this Prophet is quite the person, as we have hopefully seen. I recommend, having some of these associations in mind, which I think may well be allusions intended by Dylan, re-watching the video and letting the rich imagery and allusions lead to an encounter with the Prophet, who it seems is much more than a mere prophet.

It seems to me that this is one of the most powerful song Dylan has ever written. And certainly in regard to what I think he considers his biblical calling, he has perhaps crafted this song in which, rather than singing about or alluding to Jesus, he provides a mediation of Christ in the very song. And that, as far as I understand, is the prophetic vocation. Perhaps by not himself claiming to be the Prophet of this song, Dylan has nevertheless fulfilled the role of a prophet. And if so, we need to be open to this encounter to the one who “opened my heart to the world and the world came in.” But we come in as individuals, to whom the prophet says “Hello . . . my fleet footed guides to the underworld” and not, “Hello stranger – hello and goodbye.”

Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide

We can sit in the shade of the fountain side

Thanks for reading.

Bryan Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2020.

 

 

 

Cosmology in John Donne’s Ruine and Bruce Cockburn’s Broken Wheel

donne

John Donne, 1573-1631

THIS is Natures nest of Boxes; 

The Heavens containe the Earth,

the Earth, Cities, 

Cities, Men.

And all these are Concentrique;

the common center to them all,

is decay, ruine.

(from John Moses, One Equall Light – An Anthology of the Writings of John Donne)

 

As Van Morrison says, “Rave on John Donne.” It seems that Donne’s words were still assuming the Ptolemaic universe, at least for his theological purpose to reveal the decay at the center of the universe. Bruce Cockburn sees Donne’s ruine “way out on the rim of the galaxy” in the Copernican universe. In either view, we see the tragic reality of our Manifest Propensity.

Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2020

 

The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

anxiety

 

It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

U2’s “The Lights of Home” – How U2 and You Too Can Pray

Thou didst hide thy face,

I was dismayed

To thee, O Lord, I cried;

and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death,

if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise thee?

Will it tell of thy faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me!

O Lord, be thou my helper!”

Psalm 30:7b-10

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. Continue reading

Is There Any Solution in Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now?”

Many professional record critics have complained about “Everything Now” on the basis that the album is all “problem” with no “solution.” I think that is because the “problem” is fairly obvious not only throughout the songs, but also in our lives. And more pointedly, perhaps the songs hit too close to where we all live, and in lieu of any obvious of solution (that is the supposed accusation) we are left with an album that exists mainly for our listening depression.

But do they not offer any solution? My critique of the critics is that they have completely missed it and that is why they think the album is only about our big problem of “Everything Now.” (And I would agree that nobody only wants to hear about our big problem.)

So what is the solution? Well first let me make a point. What do you think could be the solution to our entire society’s problem? See, most of us don’t have an answer and therefore we don’t even know what to look for and can’t see it when it is offered. In other words, we miss the solution because we don’t even know what it looks like.

I believe their solution is in the transition in their narrative from songs about the problems of consumerism of everything, including our wanting even God to be another commodity (“God in heaven, could you please me?“) to songs about relationship. Peter Pan, Chemistry, Put Your Money on Me, We Don’t Deserve Love are all relational. But a relationship with who?

Well, for the sake of keeping this fairly short I’ll just mention several key points of who I think this mystery person might be. In “Chemistry” we learn that we haven’t yet “met” them. In “Put Your Money On Me” we learn that their “race for our heart” began “before we were born” and that they win that race for it when they “wake” following their death. Also their “mother” was “crying on the day of our wedding” alluding to the sorrow of Mary the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion of her son Jesus, which event was also the sealing through the blood of the New Covenant of Jesus/God with his people. In “We Don’t Deserve Love” we learn that we are like a biblical “Mary” Magdalene who has been repeatedly left by her previous lovers, the “Christ types” that always “leave you alone.” But the singer pleads with “Mary” (us) to “roll away the stone” behind which is not the imposter “Christ types” but I think the real Christ.

Now if anyone has any other ideas of some other person that can do fit in all of these descriptions, I’d love to hear it. I also realize that the biblical illiteracy in our culture is nearly complete, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most of these allusions go completely over the heads of the professional critics and masses of fans of Arcade Fire.
So this answer to the problem of “Everything Now” – that relationship to God is the solution, certainly raises many other questions – mainly “how can a relationship with God save me from “Everything Now?”

Well that question is more than I can tackle at this point, but listening to the entire album more with this “solution” in mind might help. For now I’m contented to post this excerpt from the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann:

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; You hold my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)
This is no casual hand-holding. This is a life-or-death grip that does not let go. “No-Sabbath” existence imagines getting through on our own, surrounded by commodities to accumulate and before which to bow down. But a commodity cannot hold one’s hand. Only late does the psalmist come to know otherwise. Only late may we also come to know. We may know, but likely not without Sabbath, a rest rooted in God’s own restfulness and extended to our neighbors who also must rest. We, with our hurts, fears, and exhaustion, are left restless until then.” (From “Sabbath as Resistance – Saying No to the Culture of Now.”)

Comments, questions, outrage, are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – Track 1: “Everything_Now (Continued)” The Prologue: “I’m in the black again”

The first track on “Everything Now” is a concise prologue that provides the main context for the album which is a sort of travelogue of the human condition. The track’s lyrics are as follows:

“Everything_Now (Continued)”

I’m in the black again
Can’t make it back again
We can just pretend
We’ll make it home again
From everything now

The first track is the first 40 seconds or so of this video:

“I’m in the black again” provides a double meaning. The literal sense is from the accounting term “in the black” and means that one is “profitably in business.”  The investments and expenditures that first put one “in the red” of debt, have “paid off” and the profits/benefits are being received. The metaphorical sense of “in the black” here is that of being in depression and darkness. Immediately we are thrust into a world of juxtaposition and contrast, a dualistic “place” of light & dark, good & evil, reality & appearance. Things may not be what they seem to be. More generally, it introduces the fact that our lives consist in sorts of “contracts” or “covenants” that we have committed ourselves to, as a theme of the album.

“Can’t make it back again” introduces the experiential realities of a struggle: failure, discouragement, futility, despair, hopelessness, in short… lostness. It plays off the usual positive meaning of “in the black” with a dramatic and dark counterpoint. Again, generally speaking it introduces the theme of “struggle.”

“We can just pretend” introduces the possibilities of living in a false realities, created by self-deception for the sake of providing a way to cope with the place we find ourselves. This introduces the theme of false reality.

“We’ll make it home again” introduces the place we are lost from, the place we long for, the place called “home.” This introduces the theme of pilgrimage – the return journey to home that makes the sojourner a “stranger and pilgrim” in the land being traveled through. It also thus introduces the theme of home and associated deeper traditional associations thereof such as “paradise lost” or Eden; or more personally the finding of one’s “true self.”

“From everything now” introduces the place we now live, the place we wish to be freed from. We might call it the place of bondage, servitude, captivity. It is interesting that this first track pictures “everything now” as a place, when it is more precisely a temporal rather than a spatial image. But by making it a spatial designation they have been able to deconstruct “everything now” from being a positive experience of “nowness” – and showing (I think) that it is in reality a pretending, a diversion from what might be called original  or possibly intended reality. In other words, “everything now” is a social construct of humans that we have created as an alternative to “home.” In biblical imagery this is the “Egypt” in which the Israelites were enslaved by Pharaoh, the Babylon that captured Israel. Original or intended reality is what God intended, or what we are “meant for” however we might understand it.

But something we could easily miss in all this analysis is that this place in which we find ourselves is what we have willingly purchased. This is why the double meaning of “in the black” is so important. We lament the darkness of “everything now” even though it is what we have “put our money on.” And we can’t seem to free ourselves from our chosen bondage. The scariest thought is that pretending we can “make it home again” might prove to be one of two possibilities:

  • There actually is no home anyway – “everything now” is everything
  • We are hypocrites only fooling ourselves- we don’t actually want home anyway

So Arcade Fire’s prologue track introduces these themes, and thus also many questions about ourselves and the nature of reality. Many people might say that this album is “simply about consumerism.” In a sense I agree, but the real question is “what is consumerism? I think that in this album it is but the symptom of the much deeper seated dis-ease we call “the human condition.” So perhaps the main questions could be summarized by these two:

  • Is there anything other than “everything now?”
  • Do “sell outs” like us really want anything other than “everything now?”

I think that these are perhaps two of the main questions that “Everything Now” deals with. The first one is about objective reality “outside” us, and the second the subjective reality “within” us. I find it amazing that with these five short lines Arcade Fire can not merely present a context for their philosophizing, but can actually present to us our own inner narrative – the one where if we sometimes seem to have arrived we then ask ourselves “have we?” – or where we may just always invariably arrive back “in the black” of depression.

An explanatory note on my “method” of interpretation. I realize that it may seem that I am coloring or nuancing the themes I see toward a certain narrative. The reason I am doing this is because of more explicit factors that are “revealed” as the album continues. So I am interpreting from the standpoint of having a view already of the entire album and the “narrative” that develops therein. This could make it seem that I am “begging the question” or “reading into” the songs already discussed. Perhaps I could have written the posts using a different methodology, but I think that require a much more difficult method of engaging in either a sort of “higher criticism” of AF’s songwriting process or merely being required to leave so much ambiguity that it would be difficult to say much regarding what I think they are saying. I’d have to continually qualify the narrative by saying things like “at this point I think they are saying this… but they could be saying that… ” etc.

As always, questions, comments, etc.

Thanks for reading.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Note: the featured image for this post is from here.

“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – The Album Cover: Real or Fake Reality?

I open this series of posts on this latest (and greatest – OK maybe not but it is at least great) offering from Arcade Fire with a consideration of the album cover.

The cover is exactly the same as the featured image shown above, and the following observations of the image can be made:

  • the sign seamlessly shows the same mountains and sky which are behind it
  • the mountains on the sign are clearer and show more fine detail and thus would seem to be a “better” image
  • the sign contains the glaringly illuminated words “EVERYTHING NOW”
  • the sign is held up by some ugly manmade supports
  • the sign has a few speakers attached to it
  • there are no “signs of life” in the photo such as living creatures

A few thematic and conceptual “tie-ins” can be made between these observations and the songs on the album

  • “signage” and “signs”
  • natural creation vs. manmade “creation” – two “orders of creation” so to speak
  • the concept of difference between these two orders
  • the appeal to use our higher critical, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual faculties to evaluate these different orders

The highlighted transition to the song “Everything Now” begins with these first two lines – thus highlighting this difference – the juxtaposition between the orders of creation depicted on the cover:

Every inch of sky’s got a star
Every inch of skin’s got a scar

So to summarize all of this, I think that the cover was an ingenious way of depicting the two “orders of creation” in which “we live and move and have our being.” The one is natural, beautiful, filled with multitudes of stars. The other is manmade, too often ugly and filled with a multitude of scars. The manmade sets forth that it is “better” – brighter and clearer, and supposedly easier to read and understand. Granted, the natural world is difficult to “read” – a glowing sign reading “everything now” is easy to read. But is it really better? Is it even the real world or is it just a fake reality that we manufacture thinking that will provide the answers we long for? That is actually the basic definition of what an idol is – something we create and then worship as though it created us – because in a sense when that transpires we are creating our own selves. But the ultimate question is whether the reality we create is real or fake, whether it can provide everything we hope life is for.

I think Arcade Fire with this album has produced perhaps their most unified and cohesive conceptual album that is ultimately about the “big questions” – with “everything now” being the either/or to consider. But what is the alternative to “everything now?” Is there an alternative that is reality? Or is a self-created reality all there can be, even if it inevitably is fake and produces scars on every inch of our lives (if we are willing to think about it).

So, as for what I’ve set forth an an introductory fashion in this post, the proof will be in the contents of all the songs in the album. I hope that anyone that might be reading this has already listened enough times to have discovered that, negative reviews notwithstanding, this is a great and up to par offering by Arcade Fire. I for one, have a feeling it could grow to be my favorite, which may become evident as I proceed to work through the amazing collection of songs.

Thanks for reading and for any comments!

A Post post-date revision: I posted this yesterday, and now today I learned from a video interview I watched with Win Butler that this photo was taken in Death Valley. He mentioned something about it being “the lowest place” as having significance. So how might this change my read of the two orders of creation?

I think that the basic fact of two orders remains since the photo does show both. That the natural order is one of the most desolate places on the planet perhaps enhances a sense of ambiguity or even unknowing  regarding the significance of what the natural order is a “sign” of? Anything? I had originally mentioned that the natural word is “difficult to read” in contrast to our manmade presentation/reproduction of it. So the “better” image, even of a “death valley” may still show that our human “spin” on life is basically what we try to do with life. We try to make it better – even if we’re not quite sure it is actually better at all. If there are no “signs of life” in the world does our manufacturing of signs create them? Can we create life “ex nihilo” (out of nothing)?

So it seems to me that the “natural order” desert scene juxtaposed with our “man made order” enhanced desert scene makes makes a point that is best made through the use of the desert scene. The desert is known through experience, and in religious and philosophical tradition as the place of deprivation and death, trial and temptation, the realm of the demonic. In biblical literature this is behind the conclusion that life is at the present time largely a pilgrimage through the desert wilderness toward the future return home to the garden of Eden. I believe this conceptual imagery is presented in places in the album and so obviously the photo fits the overall concept being presented. (This should become evident as this series of posts progresses.)

In conclusion then, I think that the basic statement being made through the album cover may be that the endeavor to enhance the human wilderness experience as though it is an experience of “everything now” is an endeavor in futility and self-deception. The remaining question then is whether there are any “signs of life” that provide an alternative – such as an actual future hope beyond the desert wilderness. But in any case, these words seem the only proper commentary on mere human enhancement of “Death Valley” –

Stop pretending, you’ve got

(Everything now!) I want it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!)
(Everything now!)
Everything now

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“You Can Never Go Home.” The Moody Blues and C. S. Lewis on why our best memories can actually break our hearts.

With this post I simply submit for the reader’s meditations two selections: One of the best songs by The Moody Blues, a Justin Hayward composition (who else), called “You Can Never Go Home;” and a short excerpt from one of the best sermons of C. S. Lewis called “The Weight of Glory.” So listen, read, and let these thought enzymes do the transformational mind work for which they were intended…

“You Can Never Go Home”

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

I lie awake for hours, I’m just waiting for the sun.
When the journey we are making has begun,
Don’t deny the feeling that is stealing through your heart,
Every happy ending needs to have a start.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

Weep no more for treasures you’ve been searching for in vain.
‘Cos the truth is gently falling with the rain,
High above the forest lie the pastures of the sun,
Where the two that learned the secret are now one.

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman

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Hi, Bryan. To begin with, would you like to introduce yourself and your blog? By vocation I’m a lifelong landscaper, my parents having had a landscape and nursery business. I’ve been very happily m…

Source: ‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman