Protestant lo-fi and languid psych from 1968, recorded in the chapel at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Sounding like Tim Buckley in sweetest voice, the singer presents, without rebuttal, that “some have said that God is dead” (such as Time’s famed April 8, 1966 cover: “Is God Dead?”), while others hate church doctrine. Still others (resolute secularists) regard Christianity as a “private club for those who can’t face the contradictions of life.” So why am I still “hanging around” the seminary? Some sort of calling remains, pace Altizer and death of god theology: “I want someone to share the nothing that I have to offer.” Religion (after religion), barely.
Following a strict Biblical logic, work is a curse (“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return into the ground” [Gen. 3:19]). Double-barreled vocals indicate that one will “sweat ‘til I’m wrinkled and grey,” which is both daunting and depressing for the singer; but also, as the song swells, that the Sun poses an ecstatic, negative example of “paradise.” What’s missing: an account of a rigorous laziness (or what Nancy calls “an extremity of play”) which might thread these seemingly exclusive domains, and place work in the service of what Blanchot calls unworking. As is, one is still conceptualizing the Sabbath, and thereby reinforcing the primacy of labor.
True! First, this electric guitar blues and its solo qualify as strange for 1944 (and prescient in rock’n’roll retrospection). On another level, “strange things,” closely read in Sister Tharpe’s lyrics, are ongoing conversions to “Jesus” from the realm of liardom. But “strange things” refers to the Bible, too, where, “Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things” under the influence of wine (Proverbs 23:33; ASV ). And what strange things are these? The King James Version narrows matters to “strange women”: foreign concubines, prostitutes, adulterers. Perhaps Tharpe takes wine and women and song to heart at the seeming border between the secular and the sacred. Indeed, the border itself is at stake in the very idea of the “strange” more broadly considered as the foreign, alien, different, external, extreme, exceptional, queer, rare, uncommon, singular, and surprising. Advocating a posture of lubricated wonder and welcoming toward the other.