Music

Innovating Tradition (Traditional Innovation)

“Scribes trained in the way of the Kingdom Heaven are like a householder who brings out from the treasury things both new and old.”  Matthew 13:52

New and old, innovation and tradition, generally  in opposition to one another.  Yet , new and old are two momentary experiences.  New and old are how we experience things in certain moments: the unexpected, anticipation, recollection and familiarity.  Something that is new (to me) is also unfamiliar but also full of promise.  Tradition is something passed on, it has age yet it also what is known and familiar.

Rock and Roll for a time kept inventing new aspects of itself.  Notably for me in my experience of music and Rock-n-Roll are punk and various post-punk genres that can be put under the umbrella of Goth, EBM, Industrial, Death Rock, Dark Wave, Shoe Gazer etc.

If you attend a Goth or Dark Wave festival or convention there will be bands that are still around from early on in the scene and of course newer bands.  At one of these festivals  friend of mine and I were unfamiliar with but had heard good things about this new band  The music was familiar and drew us in we would dance for a bit of the song and then we’d both stop.  About the fourth or fifth song in my friend leaned over and said “every one of their songs I’m like oh ya this is great I know this song, and then I realize, no , it only sounds like such and such great song by so and so.” I was having exactly the same experience.  Another band were excellent musicians yet the passion seemed to be sucked out of their music, or more to the point their musicianship was excellent but they lacked raw energy of the punk and death rock one would expect. The music was good the sound fit within Goth Dark wave genre, but I was unmoved but  mesmerized by the technical skill in reproducing the sounds typical of the genre. A third band was clearly conscious that they were embracing Goth Death Rock template, yet they embraced it fully even the sense that there wasn’t anything original to what they were doing, unexpectedly though the songs didn’t sound like other bands.  Thee was a distinctiveness even an newness to their submission to the genre.  Then there was Sunshine Blind, who hadn’t played or released an album in years and it was fresh a familiar and full of years of dancing to their songs..  The goth festival is an experience of Tradition.

Granted a young tradition, but it seems clear to me that certain music genres are traditional even though their origins were innovations, Jazz and Blues come readily to mind.  Rock and Roll and it sub genres both punk and Goth are now traditions.

Seeing these music genres as musical traditions, I think can bring to light the dynamic between tradition and innovation as well as dislodge our preconceived ideas about both.

Then maybe we can begin to reflect upon Jesus’s aphorism about the scribes of the Beloved Community being a curator who is able to represent a treasured collection by presenting from that collection both what is old and new.

 

A Sonic Meditation for Holy Saturday

I didn’t come up with much of verbal reflection on this third playlist for the Triduum.  If you missed the other two sonic meditations, here’s the one for Maundy Thursday and here’s the one for Good Friday.

On Holy Saturday, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is in the grave and descends to hell.  This is the Harrowing of hell.   Holy Saturday ends with the Easter Vigil, that begins with a big fire, and from that new fire lighting the paschal candle and chanting “The Light of Christ”.

This is the third day of the Triduum, the liturgy o the Three days. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are together the commemoration of Christ’s passion.  In this sonic meditation I begin with where we left off on Good Friday.  We have this day to sit and weep.  Sure we know that Easter is tomorrow and later on this evening if we attend an Easter Vigil we will on Holy Saturday proclaim Alleluia Christ is Risen… He is risen indeed, Alleluia.  But we aren’t there yet.  Jesus is dead and in the tomb.  God incarnate dies and goes to the realm of the dead (hell, Hades, Sheol).  In this moment waiting for the Easter Vigil, there’s little focus. bits of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are here, and, of course, anticipation of Resurrection.

 

A Sonic Meditation for Good Friday

The Bridegroom

That this day should be called “good” isn’t obvious or clear.  If this day is good it is not in the events commemorated, but in what God is doing, and the pulling aside the veil of te systems of power and domination.  But also,  it is that the events commemorated on this day don’t stand alone.  The goodness of this day is that liturgically we aren’t simply caught in death and oppression.  In fact later today I will proclaim with many others in song and in reverencing a representation of the cross, that what the powerful and what the system of domination intended as death dealing is turned into, by God’s act and grace, something life giving.  Liturgically we live between horror and hope on this day.  What is good isn’t the violence dealt out, but God’s identification with humanity in defiance of that violence, exposing that empire and law are bound up in death.

The playlist opens with what the Maundy Thursday playlist ended. This reflects that the Three Days or Triduum is a continuous three day liturgy of Christ’s passion. The nervous energy becomes more subdued and focused.  A melancholy rejection of oppression, violence and the madness of the world. Of course at the center of this day is an  execution, and fittingly Nick Caves Mercy Seat sits at the center of the playlist.  Here, I chose a song that has the most direct and literal associations to the theme of this day.  The title of the song is a name for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant which sat in the Holy of Holies in the ancient Israelite temple. Since the Holy of Holies was only entered on the day of Atonement and only by the High Priest, the mercy seat is associated with the theology and ideas of atonement.  Cave has the voice of the person to be executed make not only specific allusions to Jesus’ crucifixion but even identifies his execution with that of Jesus.  In listening to it today I heard also, a reference to those “thieves” or “bandits” who were crucified with Jesus and the “thief” to whom Jesus’ says “This day you will be with me in paradise.”  The question of guilt or innocence has been abandoned by the one being executed and faces his death not unlike the “thief” who chides his compatriot saying that they, unlike Jesus, aren’t innocent.  Scholars are largely in agreement that those two theirs or bandits were most likely Zealots or members of Jewish resistance who used violence and brigandage in their opposition and defiance of the Roman occupation.

From the point of execution and the defiance and acceptance of fate, we enter death.  Death is the reality we face on this day not in despondency (though for Jesus disciples, this moment was a deep confusion and darkness) but in anticipation. even so, Jesus actually dies. Here is the death of God, this we can’t avoid.  We human beings, human systems of power and domination, killed God.  Thus, Today is also a day of repentance, of reflecting on the small and large ways take the side of Death, Empire, distorted religious power, and violence.  We repent because we know the love of Maundy Thursday and we know the end of the story. Yet, we also sit with the pain, the violence and our complicity with oppression and the degradation of others, whom God created and loves.  That is our sinfulness and our mad mad world. We face too that we will all face death.  What that death will be for us and what we will find in it, in part has to do with what we do with the tensions of Good Friday. Are we willing to sit within this space, or if we do we rush to triumph without pain.

There’s a heaviness as I finish listening. We are in a wilderness, from here (even though I know to expect the  dawn) the darkness overwhelms. The grief and pain of this mad world of ours washes over me and engulfs me.

What is difficulty of this day?

What did you hear in this playlist?  What are the resonances?

Are you lead to turn aside from certain things, to allow yourself to be transformed by the reality of this day and liturgical observance?

This is the second meditation in triptych.  The first is found here, a Sonic Meditation on Maundy Thursday. The third will be here tomorrow, a Sonic Meditation on Holy Saturday.

Mass on the Altar of the World

A Sonic Meditation for Maundy Thursday

What is Maundy Thursday?  The term comes from the Latin for commandment because according the Gospel of John at the Last Supper Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” The command is symbolically and really shown in Jesus’ taking the position of a slave and washing the feet of those gathered for the meal in the upper room.  It is also, the day of the institution of the Eucharist.  It is also the day betrayal of Christ in the Garden by Judas, Jesus’ agony in the Garden, and the secret late night trial before the Sanhedrin.  Maundy Thursday; complex, chaotic, intimate, and political.

As I chose the songs for this playlist I attempted to keep the complexity and movement between intimacy and public exposure, the moment of calm but also the moments of chaos.  Personally I feel that what could fall under the umbrella of goth, dark alternative, or death rock, is well suited for the complexity of Maundy Thursday.  The playlist begins with love but an ambiguous troubled love.  If we are to hear Jesus’ command to love, we should also hear that it needs to be qualified. Love is many things, Jesus keeps us from any ambiguity through saying the command to love is connected to the way in which Jesus, and thus God incarnate as Jesus, loved.  Furthermore, in washing the feet of those at table Jesus makes concrete and symbolic what that love looks like.  So, we get a more intimate and positive, less conflicted moments of love. Here is where I find John Coltrane’s “Love supreme” in the mix. But, then back into the mix of emotions, conflicts, and ultimately betrayal.  This leads to facing violent death and the politics of death. There isn’t only a linear movement in the playlist, you can find betrayal articulated at the beginning as well as at the end.  As I listented to the playlist on Maundy Thursday, I was surprised by the degree of nervous energy in the playlist, even the moments of intimacy have an undertone of excitement and even anxiety. I hadn’t had that in mind when I put the playlist together the week before.

This isn’t a peaceful meditation.  Human failing is highlighted throughout, yet wiht hints, of something else, hins of the command ..” to love as I have loved you.”  But only hints

The above is what I heard as I listened to this playlist, as I finished preparation for Maundy Thursday worship.

What did you hear? What resonates with you?

How do you see Maundy Thursday and our commemoration of this moment in Jesus of Nazareth’s Passion?

The Bodies of (Saint) David Bowie

At some point after the news of David Bowie’s death,  across my social media streams came mention of sainthood for  David Bowie.  Dannielle Jenkins of Greaser Creatures while David Bowie was alive made these saint candles of Bowie (and other rock and film icons). 20160112_091621  It makes a certain sense, Sainthood claims not only that a particular person was of significance during the persons biological life but that said person can’t be summed up in their biological life and continues to live on and have effect in the world after biological death.

Jacques Derrida pointed out that when we are dealing with people we know through their body of work (artistic, philosophical, political, theological) there is as desire to connect up their historical and biological body with their body of work.  This is a difficult task.  While there is obvious coincidence of the biological body and the body of work under the same signature and name, each also has a life of its own.

One of the many things the philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote about was this relation between our biological existence, our projections of our selves, and death.  For Derrida death lurks in us, in our communication of our selves, in our attempts to gain access to the other. There is a difference between death and life and yet they’re intermingled.

For Derrida death lingers in the different bodies of an artist or philosopher.  We often want to make these bodies coincide.  Yet, there is a separation. Death shows this separation.  What we have of a philosopher or artist after death is their body of work, this survives death, but their biological body, their self aside from the image projected as philosopher, artist, theologian isn’t accessible to us (and wasn’t accessible in life to a degree these names and bodies are already dead to us even during the biological life).

Sainthood approaches these aporias and conundrums of image and images and multiple bodies attached to a name, by adding a body, the body that transcends or survives death beyond a body of work.  This body continues to interact with the world after the biological body has ceased to live.  This can involve miraculous events attached to the name of the saint, including revelations and visions of the saint.

But we can’t make all the bodies attached to a name neatly coincide, neither can we dismiss the connections, the overlap, and the coincidence of the bodies received under one signature and name.

David Bowie as a stage name hides from us one body, that of David Jones.  And yet the way in which David Jones’ biological  body is also David Bowie’s body and the way in which that shared body was part of the body of work signed David Bowie, there is already in David Bowie a certain transcendence of death even before the death of the biological body.  This is analogous to the ways in which the body of a Saint already shows signs of transcendence in their biological bodies.  David Bowie isn’t only already marked by death, but also marked by the transcendent body David Bowie.

Now David Bowie’s body of work is complete.  We now hear and see David Bowie differently.  We may even begin to wrestle with his darker side, things that we may not want to attach to the body of work and yet are part of the biological life and body of David Jones/Bowie.

Yet it is perhaps important to remember that the bodies of David Bowie are different while they overlap.  We can’t either ignore the difference between David Jones and David Bowie, nor can we ignore their coincidence.

What we have now access too, and only had access to as fans and aficionados of David Bowie is the body of his work of art, the story of which was told in David Bowie Is exhibition, and which we now have  as its capstone in Blackstar.

And I think we also have that body that transcends death in that David Bowie’s body of work because of the nature of that body transcends death, and continues to give us messages and encounters with David Bowie beyond the grave.

Although we have the body of David Bowie complete, we won’t be able to comprehend these bodies.  There will always be those things beyond our grasp.  David Bowie may have a transcendent body that we will only now discover as we carry with us the artistic corpus of David Bowie. However, unlike what is claimed of the saint, we will never have (and never did have) accessible to us the body of David Jones.  David Jones is lost to us, all we ever had and will ever have is the bodies of David Bowie, biological, artistic, and transcendent.

The House and the Smoothie: John the Revelator and The Liturgist

This is the third post in what seems to be the beginning of series of posts on Liturgy and Worship. The first in this series can be found here, the second is mentioned in the first paragraph below. LEK 3/13/05.

In my previous post on liturgy and the Liturgists and Phil Kline, I was feeling my way towards something.  I was following a path that I could barely make out, but I think I’ve come upon a clearing.

In this clearing I see The Liturgists as taking pieces from various sources within Christianity and offering up a blended and recombined liturgies to be used in worship or meditation, as may strike one(this description is in part taken from Facebook exchange with Mike McHargue).  The liturgist are offering up a meal or a smoothie: One could enjoy it on the go, or sitting down with friends.  One may cook something up yourself using the same ingredients and following their recipe.  Kline’s approach in the John the Revelator Mass is more holistic, in terms of  the liturgical tradition, he takes up the Mass as a whole. ( granted the reason for this is he was commissioned to write a setting of the Mass) Kline takes the Mass as a place to set camp.  He then invites disparate elements often totally unrelated to the tradition of the Mass into the encampment, and invites us to live there, or at least allow ourselves to be guests inhabiting the liturgical tradition of the mass for at least a time.

Both are forms of hospitality and gift.  But very different.  Kline offers up a hospitality of space and clearing, invites us, and the disparate elements of music, his own composition style, poetry and folk hymns into the space of a tradition.  The Liturgists want to feed you, give you the various flavor of things they’ve tasted on their travels, they’ll mix it up for you, cook it up, and/or give you the recipe for you to cook up your own liturgical meal or smoothie.  You don’t have to stop and live in their space, Just come in pick up the smoothie – enjoy and be fed and then be on your way.

In the John the Revelator mass the liturgical tradition is the space into which disparate elements are gathered into a whole and are transformed into something else as they are brought together in the house of the Mass.  For the Liturgists and their liturgies it is the tradition that is transformed as they mix blend and recombine various elements to offer up something to the passer by, content that people are nourished by the flavors and the sustenance found in various fruit and vegetable they’ve picked from the gardens and habitations of other Christians.

Kline’s Mass affirms that to inhabit the Tradition is a potentially a deeply creative space.  There’s a lot of room to be in this space even as that space will, if you live there, form one into something else, rather than one transforming pieces into something else to live in one’s own encampment.

Kline’s Mass is significant for me because it demonstrates what I hope the Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler (Facebook Page)  and the Community of the Holy Trinity (Facebook page) offer is a space to inhabit, or rather I want these to be an invitation into a habitation, away of being.

Phil Kline, Gungor, the Liturgists, and the Revelator

This post is turning out to be the second post in a larger line of thinking that began with Cultural Identity and Expression in Worship and, another post on Phil Kline and The Liturgists, The House and the Smoothie: John the Revelator and The Liturgists. LEK, 3/13/15

Gungor and the Liturgists at first glance speak my language.  When I read the Liturgists manifesto I feel my self saying right on.  Gungor’s and the Liturgists’ talk about liturgy and beauty I get and love .  My problem – Gungor’s music never really spoke to me (a song here and there I may like but just not my thing).  The Liturgists liturgies either feel like modules that  plug into some other contraption  I don’t own, or are nonsense, I don’t know which.  Each time I’ve attempted to engage the work of Gungor and the Liturgists I’d see something that in terms general outline and broad brushstrokes I should get, and yet there is always only frustration.  I certainly don’t deny that  their work is worshipful or meditative, but it remains a puzzle and entirely inaccessible to me.

Then, I came across Phil Kline’s John the Revelator Mass and the first hearing blew me away.  From the first listen I knew I needed to find away to use the mass as an actual liturgy (which this review found difficult to imagine, I have no difficulty imagining it).  My response to Phil Kline’s mass only deepened my puzzlement over my lack of enthusiasm for what Gungor and the  Liturgists are doing.  Phil Kline while having been raised Lutheran doesn’t make any claim to be a Christian, though a spiritual person, writes a mass that not only I like musically but that is comprehensible to me liturgically as worship, such that I intend to use it as an actually liturgy on the feast of St John the Evangelist (hopefully this year).  While the Liturgists’ liturgies to me are just nice art pieces that I can appreciate or critique, and may grab me as private meditative pieces (but I don’t particularly need a liturgy to meditate, nor do feel the need for group meditation) but can’t imagine how one would use them as actual liturgies with physical actions and movement within a worship service.

Some clarity came as I read Phil Kline’s description of his approach to the mass .  When he was commissioned to write the mass he began with the Blues song John the Revelator (thus the name of the mass as opposed Mass of St John the Evangelist).  But this didn’t lead him to create a Blues mass ( and that makes all the sense in the world to me) Kline stuck with the basic structure of the mass, the ordinary, including choosing to use the Latin and vocals without instrumentation, chanted, but not Gregorian. Kline then chose to see the variable portions of the structure of the mass, that is the propers that change with the day or season,  as the place of greatest interpretation- in the propers he uses voice and strings, and draws on texts from not only Scripture but Samuel Becket and David Shapiro. and two shape note hymns Northport and Wondrous Love.  In the John the Revelator Mass, Kline was able to see it’s spiritual structure and it’s creative elasticity found in living in the traditional mass by having the tradition as a whole be in dialogue with American and modernist music and poetry.

This is striking difference to what Gungor and the Liturgists seem to be doing. Liturgy and ritual are form them a generic category of worship and spirituality, and not a specific thing or tradition .  So, they seek to mine what Christians in the past and current Christians do in their liturgies.  The purpose of using litugy and mining liturgical traditions is to bring a cognizance of liturgy and ritual to evangelical worship and liturgy.  So the larger tradition of the Church is utilized to offer and create “evangelical” liturgies.  Gungor and the Liturgists aren’t looking at the liturgical tradition of the church as something to live in and find the creative and expansive place within  its structures and patterns, rather those things are examples of what can be done.  As such, they may bring pieces of that tradition into what they create or find inspiration from that tradition, but they have no interest in living there or  adopting as their own that tradition.  They don’t seek to inhabit liturgy (or liturgies), as Kline did, to find it’s creative possibilities.

My own Faith journey has come to lose interest in the possibilities of Christianity in general, or relgion in general, really anything in general.  My own experience of evangelicalism (which was actually Lutheran Pietism and not American Fundamentalist or Revivalist) sent me into the catholic tradition of the church as found in Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, and among the Anglicans.  I’m not interested in forming the tradition to my sense of what contemporary Christianity needs or what a particular segment of American Protestant Christianity might learn from the tradition. Rather, I’m interested in being formed by the Tradition and finding the creative and inventive space of dialogue and invention within in it.  This is what I think Kline did in the John the Revelator mass and it is what seems to be either uninteresting to the Liturgists or something they haven’t conceived of as possible. Either way, I’m looking for liturgies like John the Revelator and not Garden or Oh Light.

Cultural Identity and Expression in Worship

My Covenant Colleague Josef Rasheed‘s recent post about worship and cultural identity beautifully and gracefully articulates the role cultural expression plays in worship as well as its dynamic complexity.  However, I am aware a white pastor saying some of the same things would come off very differently (this isn’t a complaint, there are very legitimate reasons why Whites can’t speak in exactly this way about heritage and cultural identity and worship).  But I wish here to reflect on cultural identity, worship, and contemporaneity in dialogue with Rasheed’s post looking for that place of meeting he articulates so well in his conclusion, which I’d argue is beyond cultural identity or worship as expression, but union in Christ and the Body, the church.

Rasheed’s post has me asking what is my heritage (this is my word not Rasheed’s), what is my cultural identity?  As White this question is full of pitfalls, traps, and possible wrong turns.  Where as Rasheed’s cultural identity and heritage may be labyrinthine (he says it has taken many turns, and he has found it in unexpected moments) as White, for me to speak of cultural identity is mazelike.  Taking a turn may not lead to the way out, can lead to dead ends.  As White I can get lost in this talk of heritage and cultural identity.   Claiming my cultural identify as Swedish or German can simply fall into the realm of facade and kitsch, or worse kitsch as hyper identity. Even this hand wringing over what is my cultural identity is one of those pitfalls: cultural identity, heritage, and the like are what those exotic others have, I’m just White, the default, the measure.  In this pitfall we, who are without “cultural identity”, borrow, appreciate, and identify with what isn’t ours (this can happen in worship in multicultural congregations and worship).  The flip side of that is to attempt to guard against all that isn’t White, to bewail the loss of this or that, that the youth are into other people’s music or culture, etc.

All of this is of course bound up in failing to recognize, at the outset, that part of the heritage of White and European is the oppression of people of color in the process of creating White identity.  It should not be surprising that some of us take refuge in either the worship styles of “contemporary” or “traditional”(really what is familiar from our childhood).

What leads down some of these winding dead ends for Whites is to limit conversation of worship to that one hour (and for Whites it usually is exactly an hour) of worship on a Sunday morning.  When Rasheed talks about worship expressions outside of the Sunday worship service, his example is the funeral.  This resonates with me yet,  I remember in seminary we were taught that we may need to insist to our (White) congregations that funerals were worship.  If it is difficult to talk about worship and cultural identity as whites its in part because everything is so contained, things don’t bleed into each other.  Either worship is an isolated thing with it’s own sets of rules and music and “culture” or it must be seamless with the current culture of the individuals who show up to the worship service.

Through my goth identity I have opted for what is contemporaneous, a cultural identity without heritage. Though Goth now has a history, and may be forming a tradition of sorts. I’ve never been one who felt the need for this my pop culture identity to be expressed in worship.

In college I often spent time with an Armenian friend’s family at Easter.  There was food Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, a wonderful feast, and there was music.  Armenian Apostolic services are chanted and there is no instrumentation, the music sung outside of church and the chant are quite different. Yet in the family celebration was continuous with the Divine Liturgy. The two celebrations were one, yet neither reflected nor reproduced the other.  This resonated with me because I remembered such seamless but differentiated celebrations on the feast days in the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church of my childhood. By the time I was in college that cultural expression of worship (of the congregation in which I, my mother, and grandfather had all been raised) was a memory.  In the several thousand member church with multiple services and a contemporary worship service with rock band, worship was just another discrete thing I did in a week .  Neither “traditional ” nor “contemporary” worship appealed to a “sub-culture” an identity I was forming around alternative and goth music. Whether we sang traditional hymns or the latest worship song neither were current expressions of my identity.

I have long been drawn to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship.  This began when at 8 and 9 when I encountered the Cathedrals of Europe as places of mystery and awe.  Part of the draw is some worshipful connection to my Swedish and German cultural identity. Yet it is a bit complex, as it also alienates me from that cultural identity since most directly that identity is Lutheran and not Catholic.  In some sense often what draws me in worship is a sense of deep historical and cultural connection, liturgies and songs passed down through European Christianity from the Mediterranean. Chant Gregorian and Eastern also relate to childhood encounter of the European cathedral.  Though, I have difficulty except in a most vague and abstract way accounting for chant as an expression of my cultural identity.  To some degree connecting to this ancient worship expression fits with family stories of immigration that also seek to keep some historical and familial memory of Sweden or Germany alive in the foreign context of the U.S.

Where does this meandering in the midst of worship, expression and cultural identity lead?  In part Rasheed and I are talking about recognition and reception. Rasheed recognizes the Body of Chirst  in people singing a hymn in the Bahamas in worship in the Congo: the recognition comes both in discovering something familiar in what was initially thought to be unfamiliar and in finding one’s place in what was simply unknown.  In  the cathedrals in Europe, in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship I too find familiarity in what seem unfamiliar and my place in what is unknown.  Our recognitions are bound up in our cultural identities but not entirely accounted for by them: As Rasheed concluded “I was no longer American. They were no longer African. It is moments like these where the cultural expressions which are embedded in the soul of my people say Yes! We are God’s children, privileged to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.”

In these various worship expressions reflective of various cultures we encounter more than our own or others cultural identity in recognizing and receiving that which forms us into the Body of Christ. One may say that another cultural identity is to be formed out of these cultural expressions.  It is then possible that we may discern what forms us and does this work of formation, of knitting us into the living Temple, Christ’s body.

Here I’m brought back to all the pitfalls of saying these things as a White person. Whites have tended to assume that our way of doing things was God’s.  Through White ideology Europeans ceased to be those gathered with others from other nations and people but those to whom others were gathered.  When this heresy goes unrecognized it distorts the ability to recognize and receive, it undermines our ability to come to know the forms of the Body of Christ.

This is turning into the first in series of posts exploring worship, liturgy, culture and the roles of formation and expression in worship that forms us into the Body of Christ. There are two more posts in this unexpected and emerging series: here and here. The connection to these three posts isn’t at the moment self evident.  In part the series is about linking these up. LEK 3/13/15

David Bowie Is(n’t) Original

music-david-bowie-is-2At the top of the David Bowie Is exhibition the Yohji Yamomoto black record body suit presents the wild spectacle of David Bowie.  Then one moves to spend time in David Bowie’s early years, or really , the time before “David  Bowie”.  Here I got a sense of him as creative reclusive person, who through mime discovers his whole embodied self can be the basis of art as performance.  David Bowie emerges out of a varied set of influences and a traditional performance art.

(This isn’t a review of David Bowie Is exhibition, but a reflection on Bowie as an artist informed by the traveling exhibit, that had been at the Museum Contemporary Art, Chicago, and closed January 4, 2015.)

“David Bowie” in seeming contradiction to the spectacle isn’t about  authenticity, or originality.  David Bowie isn’t concerned about himself as the origin of his art.  From the start he rejects the Rocker”s refusal of stage make up.  The Rocker rejected make up as inauthentic.  David Bowie picks it up like the early rockers, but doesn’t attempt to make it “authentic” or representing an original author. Rather, make up becomes part of an abyssal persona without originality.  Make up is of course a key component to the Ziggy Stardust era along with wild costumes.  In Ziggy Stardust we, also find the various ways in which Bowie, as a performance artist, borrows from all sorts of sources and in collaboration. He collaborates with designers for the costumes , on  album art, and with studio musicians.  Originality, authenticity is questioned and turned upside down, even as “David Bowie” leaves behind very creative and odd artifacts .

(We should not forget that David Bowie is a staInside+David+Bowie+retrospective+features+rbPiViJ9bRTlge name and persona.  A friend once met David Bowie in a book shop and she approached him and asked are you David Bowie?  As he pulled down his shades, to reveal his eyes, he said to my friend, “Not today, love.”).

A portion of the David Bowie Is exhibit pauses in reflection upon Bowie’s 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live.  Behind the displayed costumes from that performance, in large lettering, a question is emblazoned: “David Bowie Revolutionary or Plagiarist?”  That question raises the dilemma of our understanding of authenticity and originality. bowie-2   It also comes at a point in the exhibition after which Bowie’s originality is troubled by having seen how David Bowie is collaborative, and draws not only inspiration but whole tropes (conceptual and visual) form various works and art forms.  Originality and authenticity is also troubled by Bowie’s system for conjuring of lyrics.  The exhibition has already challenged notions of authorial originality and intention.  So, one is prepared to see the question as a false dilemma.  Yet I also think it articulates how we fail to grasp tradition and how it functions.

As wild as David Bowie is, my experience of him , as presented in David Bowie Is, was as a traditional artist and not avant guarde.  Granted there is much in his performance that challenged convention and the status quo, but he is overtly and intentionally working with what he has received, and what others have abandoned and bringing what has been handed him  into a place of freshness and newness.   Part of what he receives as his career progress is “David Bowie” as a tradition to be mined. His own body of work becomes that which he receives and passes on to himself.

David Bowie fits within a tradition of entertainment, performance, art, and music.  David Bowie is also his own Tradition.

It perhaps is strange to think of Bowie as an unoriginal , inauthentic, and traditional performance artist who has challenged the status quo and created a unique persona and set of personas.  This is strange because we think that challenging the status quo occurs out of a place of authenticity and originality. We see tradition as only a conservative and static impulse.  Yet, if we see tradition as a dynamic moment of receptivity and creativity, then we can begin to look at the self-contradictory aspect of originality and authenticity:

Can any of us claim to be our own origin? can any of us be ourselves without dependence upon or reference to anything nor anyone else?  Don’t we all receive ourselves from others? Authenticity as originating only in the self and through independence consumes itself in an impossibility.

Bowie refuses the obsession with authenticity, embracing artifice and persona.  In so doing he puts himself in a place to receive a tradition of performance art that he then uses to create an astounding body of work.  In the body of work of “David Bowie” one doesn’t find the true authentic artist of an original body of work.  Rather one finds a body of work in conversation with a tradition of music and performance art (mime, fashion, theater, film, music), and a body of work that becomes its own tradition that is received and passed on.

David Bowie’s artistic body of work is overwhelming, shocking, wild, and creative, but it isn’t original.  The career and body of work received under the name “David Bowie” is possibly one of the best illustration of Jesus’ aphorism from the Gospel of Matthew: “The Scribes of the Kingdom are like one who brings out from the treasury what is both old and new.”  Such is what it means to be in a tradition, to have received a treasure out of which one brings both the old and the new.  Such is the body of work of David Bowie.

Granted David Bowie’s tradition isn’t a religious tradition but of performance, art, and music, and of “David Bowie” himself.  In this body of work we find what is both new and old, revolution and plagiarism. What we don’t find is an authentic original author, David Bowie. Such a singular and authentic origin doesn’t exist.  Or rather the origin and authenticity of David Bowie is found in others from whom he received what makes up “David Bowie.”