This song by Blind Willie Johnson is going to form the backbone of my talk at the Vigil tonight.
Whilst I am in the midst of Holy Week, moving toward the crucifxion and resurrection--around the world some Hindus are celebrating the end of winter with what can only be described as the most colourful of festivals ever. Dousing themselves and each other in colour, Holi, is not the most reverential or perhaps even 'religious' religious festival--but it seems like a blast.
I was in Austin last week for SXSW. I went to explore the feasibility of doing a theology and popular music intensive on site next year. I have taught a couple of classes on music, religion and theology for a while now and always wanted to expand the 'live' component, and this event might just be up the alley. SXSW is expensive, prohibitively so if one is thinking of inviting students to pay an already exorbitant class fee, so we went to see if one could experience the conference on the ground floor as it were, and have it be a viable experience.
I actually think that the lo-fi route might be the best way to experience what I have in mind. 2200 bands of all stripes descend upon Austin for SXSW and the city is alive with music from early morn to well into the wee hours--the whole thing is like a cross between Mardi Gras-Spring Break-Coachella and Burning Man--people out and about everywhere-some in states of decay(alcoholic or otherwise), but the mood is upbeat and celebratory.
People are there because they love music and there is a lot of music to love. We managed to see a bunch of free music and I was more than happy with 99% of the experience--there is some great music out there, and it will probably never make the radio, and that is unfortunate--because being somewhere like SXSW reminds you how narrow, predictable and boring most radio music is these days--insert artist/add beats/market the shit out of it, rinse, repeat. Austin reminded of how much I love music.
A few observations after SXSW:
1. Radio stations-held captive to corporate profit margins are essentially creating background noise for consumer capitalism and little more--that's not to say there aren't some good radio stations, there are and LA has a few, but overall, the music we are exposed to via mass media has about 20% of the breadth of those same mediums when I was growing up.
2. Drummers rule. Everybody loves drummers and drumming. Not only were there drummers setting up their kits and playing in the streets and drawing crowds and participants--the bands we saw, which covered a wide variety of musical styles, had amazing, lyrical and creative drummers, who often played classic rock kits amended with technology of all kinds-from digital samplers, to electronic drums and keyboard triggers.
3. It would seem that for most bands and much of their audience--the old rules of rock music no longer apply--I have never experienced so much genre mixing in my life--hip-hop-rock-latin-metal-nu-sol-old-soul-folk-electronic bands were everywhere--any instrumentation, any permutation to get the job down--no pretension, no limits and it worked. That said-there was an obvious and huge indebtedness to punk music as a whole--the Red Hot Chili Peppers--for bringing back the idea of groove-music with a serious edge, and David Bowie--perhaps it is because I was obsessivley listening to Bowie's new album, which was released the day I left LA--but his influence was undeniable in much of the music I heard.
4. LA produces great bands--I heard a few of them--didn't know where they were from, but the line, "we are...from LA" was ubiquitous, and they were always good--maybe I was lucky, but I don't think so.
5. Two bands I really liked NO and Semi-Precious Weapons.