A Little Fight Music
All my life people have told me that I’d outgrow my love of hard rock—that I would mature out of my youthful angst and leave Headbanger’s Ball in the dust. I never did—the more I grew, the more my metal-head grew, too. I earned my nickname “Haze” when I was barely into double digits in age, because of my love of Jimi Hendrix. And so began my addiction.
Earlier this week I drove to my office for a couple of days; it takes just over two hours when there’s no traffic. I take that time to think, pray or listen to music. On this trip I listened to my go-to favourite, RED — master of non-standard Christian themes, hard-driving rhythms, and pulverising vocals. Master of making me feel closer to God. I listened to every drumbeat, every guitar riff, every lyric as if I didn’t know them by heart. I paused when the guttural screams were coming. I took a deep breath when they were done. By the time I made it to Deerfield Beach I was in tears. Music does that to me.
I pulled off the road for a few seconds before I reached the parking lot to gather myself together, wipe away the tears and breathe purposefully, then—kind of like a volcano erupting inside—bang! bang! bang! on the steering wheel. Why God, did you have to make us so vulnerable? Why did you make us so weak that we break? You knew us before you created the world; didn’t you think this was an awful idea? If you had a morsel of compassion, wouldn’t you have said, “I can’t do this to something I love—let me find something else to do?” I would have! I would never have thought it was a good idea for people to suffer, for parents to get old and sick, for mothers to beg for food, for people to need other people. It’s an impossible situation. It’s a mental prison.
Why do we feel it necessary to be understood—to know that someone is listening, that he grasps more than just our words, that she actually feels what we are feeling? Why do we look for something beyond empathy—a pattern of ourselves that fits like a glove over our hearts and brains? For me, the closest thing is music—usually the driving force of metal or the impassioned performance of an opera. It’s only a temporary emotional salve I know, but it’s worth more than a bag of gold.
A Bit of Incite
My mum often says, “I know my daughter, I know her better than anyone”. Well, she probably does. She knows my tendencies, my moods, my likes and dislikes, but how much does she really know me? Or, more to the point, how much have I allowed her to know me?
You have to understand some fairly personal things about someone in order to know them on a deeper level, and sometimes that’s still not enough. I’m not shaped by where I went today, what I cooked for dinner, how far I walked my dog. I’m shaped by 57 years of loves and losses (in an all-encompassing sense). Like my seven-year-old self one day loving Jesus, the next day steeped in fear because I told a lie and “knew” he’d leave me behind. Or my 47-year-old self out for a run praying the entire hour, God, I’m stuck. Please help me get out of this situation. I can’t tell you how many years that went on. So, how much of that did I share with anyone? Right, nada.
The most intense times of my life—including the good ones—I would not, rather—could not—share, especially with family. I want them to know the me they watched grow up, wander off, and come back again. Not the other me that dogs the person they actually know.
Trills and Thrills
When I was about 16 years old, I was sitting in front of the TV nicely stoned and mellow. I was changing the channels, half looking for something, half just comfortable and self-absorbed. I eventually stopped surfing and went back to my book. In just a few minutes I caught myself listening to the TV, and then looking over the pages to see what was going on. Then I turned it up. There was a bearded man in 18th-century Russian costume singing on his knees with his arms stretched out in front of him as though he was trying to escape the licks of Hades. I couldn’t understand a word he was singing, but I understood what he was saying. It was loud and passionate—intense. I could feel his dread and desperation. I had fallen upon the Russian opera Eugine Onegin. I was rapt. It was like classical metal. It was Tchaikovsky and Pushkin, it was David Draiman and Michael Barnes. I found heaven.
Early in my RED discovery, I was watching the video Breathe Into Me on YouTube and happened to glance down at the comments at the bottom of the page. “Andrew” said the screams at the end of the song sounded like someone was being raped. Ouch. I thought they just sounded like someone was being cut open alive. And that’s exactly how I was feeling—like a doctor’s hands were groping around an open wound: is this where it hurts?
The morbid reality is that the only way out of this wretchedness is death. Not my death. Jesus’ death. More than once I’ve thought when he walked this earth, did he really know the depth of angst and disconnection a soul is capable of feeling? When he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane then hung bloody on a cross, did he really experience the crushing and confusing heart of a human? Or did he feel it like the Master and Creator, able to summon mind over matter at the blink of an eye? I’d like to talk to him about it. I’d like him to face the music for a few minutes—to just tell me WHY in words or music or symbols that I can understand. (If you’re thinking about telling me that I can talk to him wherever and whenever I want, I have an idea: how about you just go sing “Rolled Away” and do the hand motions, too. You don’t get it.)
I believe that Jesus understands my need to talk to him face to face, voice to voice, breath to breath—to satisfy that eternal longing. To finally be in the presence of the One who knows me, who knows everything about this crazy life and knows that sometimes it’s ugly and dirty. He knows that screaming and fighting and questioning is how I muscle through– how I feel my way along. Cut open—a bleeding heart, gasping lungs, and foul intestines. Sometimes I mentally try to stick my fingers in the dams in my intestines to stop the crap from bursting through; sometimes I feel inside my chest a heaviness I can’t describe; sometimes I scream to cover the angst in my head and sometimes to let it out.
Today I was listening to some old Candlebox and, as sometimes happens, I slid into a deep melancholy. It wasn’t just the lyrics that got me into such a state—it was the wailing guitars, the bluesy cadence, the beautifully primitive voice.* I felt pressure in my chest and a sinking in my stomach and an indescribable connectedness to things inside my heart.
Ode to Angst
Poetry can do that, too. Sometimes I look up old Methodist hymns that I grew up with and read them line by line. Passion tells her stories in the poetry of long ago, my heart tells me. Aren’t the words so deep and beautiful that they cut into your heart, your lungs, your intestines, too? Can’t you feel them in your chest, your breath, your stomach? It’s not a fountain flowing over me, it’s a knife cutting into me. Sometimes I sit in church and mime the words to those old songs because my stomach is in a knot and my teeth are clenched so I don’t cry. It’s hard rock. It cuts deep.
I’ve wondered a million times how it is that people are moved by different things. Why a gospel quartet makes one person feel ecstatic, or why the Beatles can whisk another through Strawberry Fields. (Hey, I love classic Simon and Garfunkel, but they don’t score into me like Staind or Disciple does. However, if you’ve ever heard Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence you’ve been on hallowed ground.)
For me, life has never been folk songs and flower-power. There are times that I enjoy a shift in music along with a shift in mood, but alone at home or in my car, I mine the depths of craters. I’m drawn like gravity to dig under the surface of pop music, talking points and tweets. Delta blues; rip-your-heart-out arias; raw metal. Music that breathes down the back of my neck, that awakens something inside that I cannot hold in my hands.
Odeur de la Coeur
Someday I’d like to offer up a “pleasing aroma” to the Lord instead of hands with dirt under my nails. I’d like to be less disappointing when I am trying to be more Christ-like. Starting over gets tiring. And though I know better, I can’t help feeling sometimes that God gets tired of it too.
God and I don’t have a simple relationship. Ours is fraught with ups and downs, with giving and taking away. It’s big and loud. It’s a bloody death and a powerful resurrection. It’s a deep and passionate love. It just isn’t violin music.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom. 8:37-39 (NIV)
* Previously, I used the term “vulgar”, which I meant in the sense of being wild and vernacular, and is, apparently, archaic. Apologies to those who misunderstood. Kevin Martin’s voice is not “obscene”.