Hello Everybody! This is not going to be a discussion of the latest trend, in that we are going to talk today about an incredible album and song that was released way back in 2008 (yes I know, Robinson Jeffers was already a good 70 years before that, so my timing certainly should take no one by surprise). I guess the things that grab me have a timeless and somewhat intransigent grip, which is the case with a wonderful album by Wild Sweet Orange, led back in the day by lyricist and front man Preston Lovinggood from Homewood, AL. They are no longer active in the WSO iteration, which is a shame because I think their signature Album “We Have Cause to be Uneasy” is an essential piece of work to have in your collection (run, fly, teleport, google, unleash your inner amazon, go download, beg, pray – do anything that does not leave a sour taste in your mouth to go out and get this little gem – you must have it – watch my little watch thingy as I hypnotize you, or do my jedi mind trick WHATEVER it takes, but you have to go get this album, you will be so glad ya did). Full disclosure – this comes purely from a place of passion on my part, I don’t know Preston Lovinggod from Adam, nor from Taylor Hollingsworth for that matter, and I have no connection to him, but ya JUST GOTTA GO GET THIS). Alright, enough of that.
HarveyCat: slaps my hand with his paw and slides me a look of lassitudinous dissaproval as if to say – you are boring them with commands, just tell them why the album is so important and by the way, have you even seen my litter box lately?
Lona: ignores Harvey.
Second. (Holds up two fingers) The lyrics are piercingly lush and beautiful. The album would be worth the cost in my little old humble opinion simply for the last lines of the first song (Ten Dead Dogs – don’t worry no animals were harmed in the making of this song), in which our deeply troubled insomniac hero realizes that he is in great need:
“I watched the sky turn from blue,
To black to red and yellow too,
Before the purple dawn
Was filling up my room.
And for a brief moment,
I heard the whole earth groaning,
As if there’s something
That it needed me to do…”
We are then launched into a journey taking us from the depths of desperate loss (Tilt), through an old and a new birth (Seeing and Believing), the terrifying and joyful engagement with the overwhelming divine (Either /Or – very Kierkegaardian, indeed), passionate dismantling of inner demons (House of Regret), a quiet painful realization of the cost (Night Terrors), and plaintive landing in a place not so much of resolution but of resolve. (Land of No Returning). You may gather this album is largely about a journey of faith from a Christian viewpoint woven in to the fabric of some really great indie rock, but it is not a proselytizing gimmick- it is an intensely personal view. No one will feel that they are being condemned for not agreeing -or whatever. In fact, the most judgemental barbs (other than those directed specifically at his father or at himself) are aimed at those proponents of organized religion or formulaic child-rearing who rely more on external forms and societal expectations than on fostering an inner conviction. Consider the following from the track “Sour Milk”
“Oh and the steeple people
Oh they’re so happy not knowing you (God).”
Awright,, I’m done with the effusive introduction, now I want to talk about what is really important to me about this album today. I am intrigued by the destination Lovinggood arrives at in his journey of faith. It is described with haunting beauty in the final track “Land of No Returning.” He sings first in this song of all that we miss (sunrises and sunsets for starters) when we remain simply locked into the routine of daily actions without any regard for our purpose.
“So when you go, tell me where are you going.
‘Cause there’s no place you can run to,
Forget all your longing.
So forget where you’re going”
Our hero has started a commute, perhaps on Homewood’s crowded Hwy 231, which for much of the stretch is lined with the Alabama suburban forest green mix of untended Mimosa, kudzu, hickory and other hardwoods that are really a gorgeous background for our little Alabama Lives down here. The woods and the sun cry out to him as God’s creations and remind him that he has really landed in a destination of faith. Because it is based on a faith which has called him in a compelling way by a higher power, he cannot return from it or back out of it based on his own deductions or capabilities. The peaceful guitar builds to a subdued phrenitics (yes a subdued phreniticism is possible in Lovinggood’s singing, you have to trust me on this one), which outlines perfectly a tension between the fact that faith has called him to trust, but that it has not released (not yet at least) the world from suffering:
“Is it true, is it true what they say?
In these woods there’s something real strange, you can walk for what seems like days.
Is this the land of no returning?
Is it true, is it true what they say?
In these woods there’s something real strange.
You can walk for what seems like days and the trees all start to take face,
Hold you as you’re running in place,
And then they all start to scream,
“This is the land of no returning!”
Soren Kierkegaard outlined that we first engage the world from a viewpoint of aesthetics (just what seems right or beautiful), but that a higher order of action involves ethics (what our reason dictates as being right), but that the highest order of action for Kierkegaard (if I understand him) is based on faith, or a striving for a direct submission to and eventually perhaps a direct engagement with the divine. The following quote from Kierkegaard strongly reminds me of this land of faith that Preston is talking about where we can walk for days, forever really, and still be humbled by what we can learn, and by what we don’t know compared to what God knows.
“Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy fathoms of water, still preserving my faith” (From ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript,’ by Soren Kierkegaard. I found this in an anthology “Readings in the Philosophy of Religion,’ John A. Mourant, ed., Published by Thomas Cromwell Co., New York, 1959, p 308).
For me, one of the prickly questions as to whether we can base action on faith is that this might then be turned with terrible consequences to harm others. So much bickering and even killing goes on in the name of faith. I personally feel that much violence that comes in the name of faith, is orchestrated by those with selfish political rather than truly religious motives, but the danger is still there. If I am in a land of no returning, and I can’t be talked out of it because it is based on faith rather than reason, what is to stop me from being a fanatic who would condemn and harm others? It is scary to think of a plane being hijacked, it is even scarier to know that an entire religion might get hijacked by a polemical and cruel point of view.
As scary as this question is (and it is scary- one of Kierkegaard’s books is called Fear and Trembling for good reason), it may be even more terrifying and salient to recognize that none of us (I mean, none, zilch, nada, nichts!) of us can escape basing our actions on SOME type of faith or belief, even if we don’t recognize that it binds us. Every point of reason starts with a certain premise, a foundation that we take as “self-evident,” an article of faith, if you will, on which we strive to base conclusions. Thomas Kuhn’s groundbreaking meditation on paradigm shifts (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – 1962), argues that even the most rigorous empiricist can interpret data only through the lens of the basic thought structures that rule his or her perceptions. So if both Radical Jihadists and pure-reason Vulcans start from a point of faith, then there is no safety in saying that we should denounce faith. Such a denouncement might even be impossible. Kierkegaard argued there is more power in an engagement with God – faith in a higher knowledge, rather than trusting merely in ourselves to understand him. I believe such trust must be infused with the humble realization that God does not (at this point) tell us all that He knows. Thus, we still constantly need to just try to get to know him. Check this out from the Great Dane:
“The realm of faith is thus not a class for numskulls in the sphere of the intellectual, or an asylum for the feeble-minded. Faith constitutes a sphere all by itself, and every misunderstanding of Christianity may at once be recognized by its transforming it into a doctrine, transforming it to the sphere of the intellectual. The maximum of attainment within the sphere of the intellectual, namely, to realize an entire indifference as to the reality of the teacher (God), is in the sphere of faith at the opposite end of the scale. The maximum of attainment within the sphere of faith is to become infinitely interested in the reality of the teacher (God).” ibid: p. 313.
I think we may do better to try and base our actions of faith in God, although he does not want us to turn off our brains or start punching each other about it. I derive a lot of guidance from the fact that Paul taught that we don’t rely just on faith, but that we rely on faith, hope and charity. If we have hope: (hope in the humanity of others, hope in the long view of God, hope that people can change), we may be less likely to turn to the nihilistic actions that have harmed so many by “faith-based” fanatics of every stripe. What brand of nihilist tries to bring on the apocalypse on his or her own terms? And if we have charity: true love and concern for others as well as for ourselves we would treat others as we would like to be treated, and wouldn’t hurt them. I derive great hope from the idea that we are all God’s children, and that we may just one day learn to get along. I certainly have met many people in this second life world and in real life who have bolstered that hope in me (THANKS Y’ALL!!!) Anyway, hope and charity are likely topics for other days, but it does bear mentioning that charity (love) is listed as the greatest of the three. Think on that a bit y’all. Sheesh I sure pushed the steam out of the hot air-bag with this blog-like thingy today, but I Hope you enjoyed this.
AND GO GET THAT ALBUM!!!
copyright Jan 2016, All rights reserved. Lona Gynt. but I guess I have to believe it is right. 😉