Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The God of Gospel Music
I've just recently been commissioned to write articles on every single Johnny Cash album ever released. This is going to give me a tidy profit. Why? That Johnny Cash was a busy boy. Not counting bootleg albums, his officially released US albums total a whopping 96. Not like a certain British singer-songwriter we know. (Yes, Peter Gabriel -- I'm talkin' to you.)
I grew up listening to Johnny Cash because my Dad was a big fan. Also, it was pretty hard to be an American with at least one working ear and not bump into a JC tune every once in a while. Now that I'm burying myself in everything Johnny Cash, one can't help but notice that he was a little crazy about Christianity.
According to The Man Called Cash (Steve Turner, 2004), JC believed in tithing. The way he did it was that every tenth song he recorded had to be a gospel song. Eventually, he went on to do only gospel albums.
Now, gospel music is actually damn good music. There have been many a Christian who became "saved" merely through listening to the music. And then they go on to live their lives in a very un-Christian manner.
So, what kind of God is the God ssung about in American traditional gospel music? (Not that contemporty fluffy bunny pop gospel crap, either). I mean a real good thumper like "I Saw the Light" (which was actually written by Hank Williams, but it still counts).
The God seems to be the the song itself. Just the feeling you get from singing it with others. There is a touch of the transcendent there for just that space. Other than that, what could have this God meant to such performers as JC, who had a sadistic father who drowned JC's puppies for fun. Why would God allow these puppies to die and yet be the subject of such triumphant music?
God is good at being the God of creativity, but not much else.
JC would probably say, "Never mind. Just play another song."
So, we will. Here's JC in "Wonderful Time Up There":