“Invisible Sun” (The Police)

Unusually downtempo, with descending melody line threatening to fall into the abyss. It mimics a lyric rich in negative theological implications: absent Sol means that all demands by the dominated are phrased like Bartleby might (“I don’t want….”). Crucially, only a liquidation of man, made in God’s image, will suffice: “they’re only going to change this place/By killing everybody in the human race.”


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“So Many Things Have Got Me Down” (The Search Party)

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.


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“Working on a Building” (Cowboy Junkies)

Permanent housing. Gospel traditional reworked through Xanax-like vocals and behind the beat accompaniment. Singer plays with possible performances (as a drunkard and liar) and then denies she’s a singer; if she were, though, she’d sing and work on the building for “my Lord. “Religious subjectivities, surely, are always structured by denials, but also by somnambulant identity politics: the bondsman forced to produce/build self without own signature.


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“Sheep” (Pink Floyd)

Produced by Roger Waters, Animals (1977) sounds like dry ice. There’s no place or space in this mix for a psychedelic communion of instruments. Instead, voices are constantly modulating toward machines, and the guitar delivers its message in biting, often atonal shards. This revolution is serious business. Translating capitalism into the terms of the animal fable, Roger Waters discovers three relevant categories: pigs (the one percent), dogs (aspirants, or those aggressively playing the “game”), and sheep (perfect victims). Religion, invented by the system in order to produce quiescent meat, is skewered; Waters rewrites Psalm 23 as preparation for the abattoir, and proposes, in its place, a rather unlikely but decidedly low-tech alternative: karate training. Karate, however, is deeply intertwined with the history of buddhisms. It is in no sense a secular practice, and its spiritual dimensions have provided platforms for both state rule and capitalist accumulation. (Indeed, Žižek says that if Max Weber were alive today, he’d likely write a book on the “buddhist ethic and the spirit of global capitalism”). Meanwhile, the sheep, who have become martial arts masters, achieve a Pyrrhic victory: “the dogs are dead,” but the pigs are still overhead, ready to carpet bomb. Even if your kicks are fast as lightning, you can’t defeat aerial bombardment by those who preside over the garrison state, with their cloven hooves on the triggers. So how do we read the sign “karate”? As hope from the East? As a weapon of the weak? As always already defeated and coopted? Whatever karate brings to the table, it still cannot execute a pork chop.


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“You Don’t Know Jesus” (Mogwai)

Eight-minute repetition of same chord progression, but it’s the embellishments that count: chorused-out church bell chimes at end, notes picked behind the guitar’s bridge or nut, weak crescendos that never remain erect. Tornadic phased feedback at middle and end refute all of these sonic gimmicks by noting the effected-ness of the fundamental—the limit of the “What would Jesus do?” question. Quadruple-mediation (voice-text-reading-incorporation) outmoded; the fundamental becomes that which we can know through a profession of incomplete knowing, when the “no” is central to “know.”


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“The Secret Life of Plants” (Stevie Wonder)

Peristaltic vocals note the gurgling, rapacious nature of human being, which should never question the “inevitable being.” Problem: the being that is inevitable (plants) also embodied by Prime Mover—given that “discoveries” are to be had: holiness demands epiphanies that produce worship. Finiteness not possible in this equation, and our affliction is that we never realize that we are subject to the cosmic powers of Nature. “Doubt” inadmissable: tree hugging at its limit.


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“Holy Ghost” (The Bar-Kays)

Staged as an alternative Pentecostal worship service, with the lover’s love (as language) containing the Holy Ghost. Perhaps it’s more a question of how such love can be transformative. It certainly has to do with voices/voicing, phrasing, and articulation–see the bass’ varied attacks and effects. It’s also about translation: a love that puts a “tremble” in the singer’s “talk.” (There’s no glossolalia or xenoglossy here. While we’re at it, there’s also no sense of baptism in the strict sense: there’s no “experience” of the lover/god, only their effects. And no trinity; only two multiplied by all potential listeners.) The lover “ought to be ashamed” of his/her power, but there’s no “in itself” here. Love/listening is between and referred, and nothing outside of this.


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