[Today: Take me to the river...]
I got to spend some time with my cousin Chris last week, which was a nice treat because he and his family live in Seattle and I don’t see them often enough. He and his brother Jon were the same ages as me and my brother and we lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools, so we were friends as much as relatives growing up. Many was the Saturday afternoon that we spent splashing around in their backyard pool or listening to KISS records.
Chris also happens to be one of the more religious people I know. He found the church on his own, at an early age and outside his family, but he’s never been the sort to wear it on his sleeve, thump the bible, or act holier than thou. For me, he embodies many of the qualities that I (the atheist) appreciate about the church – he’s a genuine, nice, caring person who seems to be lit with that inner glow that’s hard to describe but easy to spot. This isn’t to paint him as some kind of holy man – quite the opposite, he’s down to earth and a lot of fun. He’s also been a long time musician, so when we get together we usually have some pretty animated conversations about music, and the records start piling up quickly.
At one point during our visit I turned the record collection over to him, and it was one of the best decisions I made all weekend. The first three albums he pulled out of the stacks were Innervisions, Purple Rain, and Natty Dread. Stevie Wonder is Pentacostal, Prince is a Scientologist, and Bob Marley was a weed smokin’ Rastafarian, but all of them made music that was fueled by spiritual fire. Large swaths of Wonder’s catalogue talks to or about God, but he wrapped most of it in irresistible beats. ‘Higher Ground’ is one of the funkiest churches around, but it’s clearly on the spiritual tip.
Chris’ selection of Prince at first surprised me, because much of Mr. Unpronounceable Symbol’s music is about hedonist, Luv 2 Get U Off type stuff. But the title track of Purple Rain is about as gospel as popular music got in the 80s, and of course, Prince always has a forgive-me-my-trespass type song tucked among the booties and bathtubs. But it was the Bob Marley selection that turned this from an evening of conversation (none of which was about religion, nor do I think his musical selections were inspired by the dots I’m connecting) and into a blog post.
It seems to me that organized religion has a way of inhibiting people’s enjoyment of the sensual world (of course, I’m speaking from my own limited personal experience here). Many people who look into their bibles see sins and plagues where I see miracles and love, and generally seem to lack the joie de vivre that a connection to god oughta bring. But then every so often I come across people who aren’t like that at all – people who pray, while still enjoying a glass of wine, a good laugh and a Bob Marley album. And that lifts my spirits…
Listen: Higher Ground
Listen: Purple Rain
Listen: Natty Dread