Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Radiohead and Christianity

I am currently reading "A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture" by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. Its a great read, I recommend it.

Anyway, I found this excert particularly interesting, not only because it is discussing one of my favorite bands, but I think there is a lot of truth to the statement he makes about the churchs desire to appear orthodox, to apear like we have it together more then we really do that makes the church seem so irrelevant to the world.

"The band's (Radiohead) approach offers some challenges as we think through a theology out of pop culture. The following statements by various band members demand particular reflection. Ed O'Brien, bass player, said, "We can't do anything exactly right. But that's what makes our sound." One of the banes of contemporary Christianity is its intence focus on orthodoxy. The problem is not orthodoxy but the fact that far too many people are running around making their particular theological posture the standard orthodox test. We all have glimpses of truth, but, to echo Paul, this side of the grave we all "see through a glass darkly." The desire to appear orthodox has led to a dearth of creativity in virtually every realm of the contemporary Christian experience, particularly the realms of theology and music. This streak of perfectionism, which runs deep in the American religious mindset, creates atmospheres of fear and trepidation, especially in regard to new ideas. Experimentation is a key ingredient of a contemporary theological construct.

A second point comes from vocalist Thom Yorke: "Aiming and missing is the whole premise." This does not mean to be wrong is right, but it affirms the need for room to fail and also the need to challenge right constructs by being wrong. The pop song demands on some level a degree of conformity. For the last forty years, the basic structure of the pop song has revolved around the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus method. Along with this approach to the structure of songs has come a similar conformity in the formulation of vocabulary and sentiments. In this environment, originality is at a premium, as most artists tend to fall back on the mundane and the mediocre. That is why rhyming is a key element of pop songwriting–words have to fit and sound right. Rhyming helps this process. Unfortunatly, originality can get lost in the pursuit of the perfect rhyming word.

Radiohead bent and broke these rules both musically and lyrically. They allowed the athority of the lyrics to be controlled by technology. they abandoned standard pop song structure and format in search of new musical horizons. They re-created the rules and boundries of what a pop song is and what it can accomplish. Theology also needs to fiddle with its rules, not in random ways, but with a sense of experiment, excitement, and creativity."


jennylou said...

I love that section. It is so chidlike, really, to just fling your arms out and run like crazy with a new, original way of doing something. We do have such a fear of failing, which is especially lame in artistic and spiritual expression since they're subjective anyway.

~ jessica said...

It's so true. And I think people take themselves too seriously, which often gets in the way of having any sort of real experience with anything.

KK said...

Amen to that! What's church but just another click anyway?! Our lives should be immersed in risk and change with the idea that we'll learn something amazing whatever the outcome. Life's too short to live without running through a field, falling face first in the mud and then having a mud fight. No more boohooing!!

Paul said...

as if i needed more of a reason to love radiohead. nice find. i'll look into that book for sure.

Kevin said...

Actually i don't think Radiohead were really breaking any rules or even doing anything all that new. They were just trusting their instincts and doing their best to let themselves be influenced by a wide variety of sounds from a bunch of places, and used the resources they had with major label backing to take those sounds and influences out to a broader audience who otherwise wouldn't hear them. Neu and other krautrock, Aphex, Squarepusher and other Warp Records stuff, preservation hall funeral jazz.