Eugene Hutz and the Glorious Mustache

5 Jun


OK, so I love Relevant. Pause. Rewind. Take Two. I love that Relevant exists. They are a legitimate resource for a lot of Christians, young and otherwise, and have pretty sturdy, well thought-out content. But sometimes, I feel like they’re either a half a year behind or not pushing themselves (and us readers) far enough.

Example: This article about finding God in secular music. First, not an original topic, and not even an original take. Second, it could be a good thing for young believers to hear except he goes in this direction…

I’ve run across a handful of secular artists in the last few months who are writing great songs about God and Jesus, even if they haven’t discovered the truth yet. The following is a breakdown of a few artists’ take on God, Jesus and the spiritual world. Some come closer than others to finding the truth, but each displays the natural human need we have to find our way back to our Creator.

So I don’t necessarily disagree that this happens, or that humans can tap into God (or rather the other way around) without us knowing it, maybe only realizing it later, if ever. But what irks me the most is the way he projects onto these artists spiritual messages and lists them as “theologies.” I’ll be the first to admit we all experience spiritual moments through a number of differing media (precisely his point), but let’s be honest — it’s totally personal and may be totally contrary to what the songwriter was feeling when he composed the piece of music. relevant

So, I wrote the following in response.

I appreciate this article. It’s a step in the right direction. But do we even have to pull spiritual/Biblical lessons from the music? Are we required to make the effort to project onto artists Christian ideals?

Or can we appreciate music for music’s sake? Consider this excerpt from an essay I finished a few months ago. “At some point, Christians have to realize they’re free to love beauty wherever it may be found, free to love art for art’s sake and music for music’s. Drew Dixon wrote a dead-on article for Ivy-League Christian journal The Augustine Project a few years ago. In it, he succinctly challenged the assumption that worship music is or should be a genre. A song’s lyrics, and the message from them, are entwined with its music, he said. The two are not easily dissected. “Placing all the value in the message robs all the value of the music, relegating it to a mere system of delivery,” he wrote. His point is reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan’s infamous warning, “The medium is the message.” A lyric may be powerful, worshipful, Godly, whatever — but it still can’t be pulled from its aural context.”

Likewise, we need remind ourselves the liberty we take with books and film. Many of us herald books with graphic content as very poignant, compelling reads that can challenge us on certain topics. As long as the graphic material isn’t gratuitous (meaning it doesn’t point us toward something meaningful). And we do the same thing with movies. Nothing good or Christ-like about the relationship struggles in Revolutionary Road or the sexual promiscuity displayed in Factory Girl. But we point to something greater contained within them. We don’t take a line or a sentence at face value. We look at the entire thing.

The same freedom should be given to musical artists.

A bit helter-skelter wasn’t it? Yeah, I should think through my responses before I post them. But regardless, I stand by my point. An example of what I mean could help, yes? Alright. Take Gogol Bordello. You really aren’t going to find some hidden Christian view in their music. If you do, the themes are so general that they’re probably ones we all deal with, not ones specific to the Christian faith.

Now, instead of doing that — trying to pull rabbits that aren’t there out of magic top-hats — and instead of saying, “Well if there aren’t redeeming or spiritual principles in the music, then you shouldn’t be listening to it,” I would say we can appreciate music for what it is: an attempt at creativity that will connect to others.

There are borders to artistic expression (think the Yale student abortion art exhibit), but we do have the option to applaud those men and women in the world who sing, and dance, and write songs, and perform them. We don’t have to emulate them. Or recommend anyone else emulate them.

I, for one, won’t be altering my life based on Eugene Hutz’s worldview. But I also won’t say we should ban his music, or tell Christians it’s without merit. Because I think it is.

Studies show that what we experience and the media exhibited to us does affect behavior, but I can assure you music (of all types, all volume levels, all styles, and created by all different types of people) can be therapeutic in a way that to not experience it will have equally negative effects. So there are boundaries, as always. But for the most part, I do believe we (all of us, not just Christians) need to free ourselves to like and dislike what we may, find truth where we will, and not justify it to anyone.

Seth Hurd, you like The Hold Steady. That’s fine. You think they have some spiritual truths to impart to us. That’s fine too. You should hold on to those. Maybe even share them. Just as long as you know that you don’t have to. You can listen to and love music without analyzing it down to the very last detail. You don’t have to research every band you like to see what they’re about. And you definitely don’t need to feel like you have to insert Christian ideals into your favorite music to justify it being on your iPod. Music is to be enjoyed. And God is interested in our joy.

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

2 Responses to “Eugene Hutz and the Glorious Mustache”

  1. Logan Waters July 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    I like some of GB’s music, but Hutz’s songs are, if anything, *anti* Christian (or at the least aggressively agnostic/atheistic).

    Check the translation of Santa Marinella…

    There are other examples, such as Supertheory, Your Country, and several older cuts…

  2. readzebra July 20, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Oh, his lyrics can certainly be anti-Christian in places. My point was that lyrics are not the only part of a song. And there is value in good music, regardless of the lyrics.

    You also have to understand where a songwriter is coming from. I have friends who are “anti-Christian,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t hang out with/love them. Eugene Hutz is a Ukrainian immigrant — there probably hasn’t been a fantastic picture of true Christianity put in his life. So you can see why he might write what he does.

    Also, look deeper. Certain songs contain values that, as a Christian, get me very excited.

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