Saturday, October 3, 2009

Spirituality/Faith, Indie Cred & Musical Influence

Last night, myself, a couple of fellow CBC Radio 3 listeners and host Grant Lawrence were chatting about various aspects of broadcasting life. The topic then came upon the segment Grant did Thursday, featuring songs from You Say Party! We Say Die!'s latest album XXXX, as well as interviews with various members of the band. Grant mentioned how YSPWSD were on a long hiatus, and during that time, lead singer Becky Ninkovic had found God (cringe nose here, uncomfortable chuckles all around table). He went on to say that during the interview, Becky was saying things like, "God is love," "God is divine," and various things that made both her band mate and Grant extremely uncomfortable and awkward and oh-no-make-her-stop.

In Canada, the kind of spirituality that's hip and appropriate for public chit-chat involve yoga and taking long walks thinking about your life. Or the derisive smirk and nod when someone from the American political far-right says something extremely stupid and stamps it with God™. CBC, especially Radio 3, has an unspoken (or maybe spoken) mandate as a public-private institution to be neutral to matters of religion and faith, and since there are no neutral stances in matters of spirituality, adopts a secular viewpoint. We touched up on all these points during our conversation, and while I pointed out that the (generally left-wing) indie arts community and Christian faith, in this case, are not mutually exclusive, we agreed that it is uncommon to hear an open endorsement of God in Canadian independent music.

Grant opined that YSPWSD stand to possibly lose a good chunk of their "indie cred," and there are several possible reasons for this. He reasoned that their demographic does not want to hear about God. That may be partially true, but we must consider that the percentage of our youth/young adults who are agnostic are quite high. I think that by identifying with an organized religion (as in, not the yoga-practicing, self-actualizing kind of "I am my own god" God), there are some easy heuristics/labels that people attach to an artist:
1. conservative (i.e. not edgy, not original, no new ideas, not inclusive-- big Canadian no-no)
2. brainwashed (i.e. not free-thinking, tricked/stupid, not speaking from own p.o.v., "will try to convert them")
3. ... just not cool. Rock stars are supposed to be happily, wildly and excessively pagan until they're old and worry about what happens after they die.
And thus, their music will be bland. and inoffensive. and about how Jesus wants to hug everyone. and generally not worth listening to anymore.

However, as I listen to some of my favourite artists, I hear their perception of the beauty of God, I tremble from the questions of anger and tears and longing, and I feel the inspiration of something greater than their own volition. Frankly, I couldn't listen to music if I didn't sense these things. In fact, one of the reasons I started listening to independent music was because of the lack of genuine doubt, joy and professions of faith that mainstream music on the whole (including contemporary Christian rock) offers. Joel Plaskett's Non-Believer, Two Hour Traffic's Sing A Little Hymn, anything by K'naan... to just scratch the surface, can challenge my own faith and at once enliven it more than many sermons I've sat through.

This is not a call for artists to identify themselves (WHICH GOD ARE YOU SINGING FOR?!) but rather a open query: why are we so uncomfortable discussing about the Divine as a common source of inspiration that's so central to so many artists' lives? Can we still be moved by a song whose source of inspiration make us awkward/conflicted/angry/apathetic? Will we label an artist as not worth listening to any further because of whom they profess to love?

(...there goes my indie cred, right?)