Religious holidays get a bit mixed up in secular society these days. I was always amused at how quickly various people deem Christmas, for example, to be ‘all over’ before it’s barely begun. The fact the Twelve Days only start on the twenty-fifth seems now to have been roundly ignored. In Scotland they’re already gearing up for Hogmanay by the time Boxing Day lands.
Christmas does have a soundtrack all of its own. There’s no big popular accompanying soundtrack to Easter which springs to mind but there is a great tradition of religious song. As you may recall I’m a lover of Gospel music in all its obvious sentimentality and simplicity. Much of what passes for Gospel is nostalgia but I am certain that nostalgia is for a time when these simple songs of hope lifted people’s spirits in times of real hardship. The promise of the life to come, of peace in the valley and of meeting loved ones, long lost at a time in the future is a common human aspiration. We are all drawn to the possibility that there may be a kinder, more forgiving world awaiting us all. Of course, none of us knows better than the next person the truth of any of that which is why all such hope comes under the banner we call ‘faith.’
There is a deeper truth to Gospel music which resonates more with me, however. It is when the songs themselves don’t simply offer the hope of a world to come but proclaim the deep desire for a slice of heaven here on earth. As Bob Dylan might say, ‘things should start to get interesting right about now.’ He’s seldom wrong too. It’s been too easy for too long for religion to duck out of social concern by kicking hope into the long grass of the supernatural. My grandfather was said to be palmed off by a curmudgeonly step-mother-in-law who would negotiate remuneration by declaring, ‘You’ll get your reward in heaven.’
In last week’s show and in the blog I was telling the story of Stephanie Lambring whose own experience of faith brought cruelty rather than kindness and isolation and alienation when liberation should have won the day. So this week, let’s have some music which contains joy as well as the hope of a better world here and beyond. Listen to the songs of Mavis Staples, Willie Watson and The Fairfield Four, Elvis Presley, Patty Griffin and even the hint of Gospel in the great comeback album from Miko Marks and appropriately, The Resurrectors.
I mentioned Bob Dylan earlier and we’ll play the ultimate Gospel song from Bob, who inevitably, brought a focus to the genre from his wise eyrie.
It’s all in two hours of Another Country this Tuesday evening at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland or BBC Sounds. Join me if you can.