Friday, October 17, 2003

Kyrie Eleison, indeed

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

The other day I bought a CD by a Christian musician (and native Kansan/K-State alum) named Mark Schultz, as recommended by a friend of mine. What caught my ear was his cover of the Mr. Mister hit “Kyrie Eleison.” As a youngster I didn’t like ‘80s pop music, but “Kyrie” was an exception because it sounded like the band was singing a slightly muddled version of my name. When you’re 14, that’s pretty cool.

As a mostly-grownup, I know that “Kyrie eleison” translated from the Greek is “God have mercy.” Stanzas like this now make more sense:

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I'm going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

Got me thinking: How many pop songs or other pop-culture artifacts these days use Christian themes that audiences don’t necessarily recognize as such?

For centuries, the imagery and traditions of the church fueled the arts. Now, I’m not trying to compare the Sistine Chapel to the Billboard charts (I’ll leave the pop culture vs. high culture debate to the readers at 2Blowhards), but it is interesting how little of contemporary arts – fine or pop – are directly inspired by faith or even religious tradition. (That statement does not apply to ironic or postmodernist religious references, which are in a mini-boom.) I suppose, in a pluralist society, it’s not surprising that what does make it into the mainstream is not transparently “Christian.”

There are exceptions: U2. Bob Dylan, sometimes. Johnny Cash (The Man). Van Morrison. Nick Cave, a seeker testing Christian themes. R&B and country musicians often have roots in gospel, which they refer to on occasion.

Tangentially, had you heard about Prince? He became a Jehovah’s Witness recently, and his 2002 release included religious imagery. Can you imagine having the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince standing on your front porch proselytizing you? These people can. Whoa.



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