Thought this might be an interesting article for readers out there…
I’ll post more devotions and lyrics later in the week…
Just as pop music is the soundtrack to our lives, so can it tap into our spiritual yearning.
TWO of the most spirituality significant moments in my life took place in a car with Tom Waits singing on the stereo. On both occasions, the galvanising theme was homelessness. In the first incident, I was barrelling down the freeway when Gavin Bryars’ mystical composition Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet came on the radio.
For those unfamiliar with Jesus’ Blood, it’s probably best described as a contemporary symphonic poem set to an old recording of a homeless man singing a religious song. The lyric “Jesus’ blood never failed me yet” is repeated over and over, the looped recording affirming a humble personal faith. Gradually more instruments are added until the frail voice is emboldened by a full orchestra. It’s intensely moving. In the 1993 recording, the gravel-voiced Tom Waits joins the tramp’s song.
Hearing this spiritual hybrid for the first time while on the road, I had to pull over in the emergency lane to catch my breath. When Waits joined in, I had an overpowering feeling of being touched by something profound and ethereal even though I am by no means a religious person. I was unable to drive until the song was over.
A couple of years later, Tom Waits’ singing (one of his own songs this time) again made an extraordinary impact while I was driving a homeless Aboriginal woman to a welfare service. Mary had just been assaulted and robbed. She’d been sleeping rough and her boyfriend had been sent to jail. Mary was overwhelmed by hopelessness; she was suicidal. As we listened to Waits’ music on the car stereo, something remarkable took place. I watched as Mary’s mood lifted from despair to joy. The singer and the song moved her so completely, it transfigured her state of mind. When it had finished, she practically radiated goodwill — the music, she said was one of the greatest things she’d ever experienced. The spiritual force of Waits’ music was revealed to us both.
Some elements in the Catholic Church have highlighted the prominent Christian overtones in Waits’ oeuvre. Performing songs such as Jesus Gonna Be Here and Lord I’ve Been Changed, you can see why. Quoted in The Times, an article by Father Antonio Spadaro in a recent edition of the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica explores how Tom Waits’ music offers listeners a form of spiritual succour. Although he has never publicly professed a Christian faith, Waits’ lyrics are often simpatico with Christ’s message. His songs venerate the downtrodden, the dejected, the prostitutes and the beggars. According to Father Spadaro, Waits’ often grungy material offers liberation; it expresses a “capacity for hope and instinct for happiness”.
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