February 2, 2015
I dare speculate that few religion courses at Catholic universities cover “Pussy Riot’s Theology,” “Nit Grit ’Hood Theology” and the spiritual significance of pop star Lorde’s ubiquitous tune, “Royals.” These themes, however, resonate with students in a course I developed and taught at the University of Detroit Mercy.
It began in 2008, when I spent a very intellectually and musically stimulating weekend at St. John’s...
March 24, 2014
We have all seen the black and white footage from that February day in 1964. Teenagers by the thousands were screaming from balconies and behind police barricades. Four Liverpudlians—ranging in age from 20 to 23—emerged from a Boeing 707 appearing as though they had stumbled into an enormous outdoor surprise party. Then there was the press conference at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where they mugged for the cameras like latter-day Marx Brothers....
When the San Francisco Opera premiered Mark Adamo’s opera, “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” on June 19th, there was some nervousness that the treatment would cause a backlash from those concerned about whether or not the production would uphold tradition regarding Christian gospels and Catholic teaching about Christ, his mother, his disciples and Mary Magdalene. As someone who subscribes to this tradition I want say that the opera is not a threat. In fact, it is a great disappointment....
April 9, 2012
As a singer-songwriter who kept throwing grit and squalor into that overproduced candy shop Nashville called country, Steve Earle has had a hand in protecting the authenticity of a unique American musical tradition and in birthing a new one—the more contemporary iteration of “Alt-Country” or “Americana” music. He has lately taken a shot at acting with a role in HBO’s “Treme” and recently added “novelist” to his impressive C.V.
In a burst of multitasking hubris, Earle released an...
January 2, 2012
As the story goes, the frequently-belligerent Irishman/slightly successful rock singer Bob Geldof saw a report on the BBC about ongoing famine in Africa and became so incensed that he immediately took action, rounding up a passel of British rock and pop stars, writing a song, recording the thing and having it out by Christmas, wherein it immediately became the biggest-selling single in English music history. It has since been surpassed by that dreadful Elton John recycled-Diana-tribute “...
September 26, 2011
Though I may not like most Christian rock, as with nearly everything, there are exceptions. Here are a few notable songs fellow skeptics of the Christian rock genre might enjoy:
“Turn Around,” by Matt Maher. Maher, a Catholic, is both popular and critically acclaimed. This song , and his music in general, is often...
September 26, 2011
I was going through a difficult few weeks not long ago. In an attempt to cheer me, a good friend sent me a link to a song via an online chat. I appreciated the gesture, but I was also skeptical. Once, when pressed by an icebreaker game at a retreat, I rated my friend’s taste in music as a 3 out of 5. And because it was a retreat, I was being kind.
“Am I going to like this?” I typed.
“It’s a God song,” she wrote back. “And it’s apropos.”
A good song can be an excellent...
August 15, 2011
Here is what happens when you declare yourself a legend before becoming one: anything you do as an artist is destined to be anticlimactic. Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way , released in May, was highly touted even before its release. A tweet from Gaga herself proclaimed it as “the anthem for our generation.” But perhaps she is too wrapped up in her own personal cocktail of influences and passions to create anything...
April 4, 2011
In 1956 the Jesuit editors of America lambasted Elvis Presley for the sexually provocative performance style he exhibited on television. Now, almost 60 years later, I am writing for the same magazine on the spiritual significance of rock and roll music. Clearly, the way society looks at rock music has changed dramatically. Rock music has also changed significantly, evolving through multiple permutations, expanding globally and splitting into more subgenres. Rock as a musical form also has...
February 28, 2011
The singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has opened for an Irish rock band, held sold-out shows with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and graced the stage at a number of New York City’s most popular venues. But the first place I saw Ritter perform live in concert was a church.
In 2007 he performed a solo show in the Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Conn., apparently the only local venue with space to accommodate the fans. Filling the pews, they refused to let the stained...