Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"It's a bit didactic" AKA "So obvious it hurts"

There is a sounding board in my life called Cara.

The Greek word behind the name means 'joy'; just occasionally the name means 'ouch'.

We sound a lot of stuff off each other: ideas, art, photos, music, kids, wine, the pronunciation of 'bolognaise' (all in no particular order). Nothing is safe.

The other week I legally downloaded a free album ('Nobody's Cool') off the website of the (now defunct) Californian band The Arrogants. Several songs on the album grabbed my attention straight away. They were the simpler songs on what is a fairly Cranberries-ish (is that a word?) album. Their lyrical intent arrested my attention.

The songs 'Why T.A.N.G. is my favorite band' and 'Nobody's Cool' are songs that tell us to keep it real. There's really no such thing as a rock star or some super breed of human being that carries more dignity and value than the rest of us. You cut us, we all bleed.

I played the songs to Cara, hoping to impress her with the 'in your face' approach the band took to the issues. Her response? "It's a bit didactic." Ouch.

It's too straight-up, too obvious. And I think she's right.

'Why T.A.N.G. is my favorite band' attempts to be a cool song, but what it actually does is explain / rationalise parody. In so doing - in telling us why T.A.N.G. are a cool band, and how they critique the music industry, and what's wrong with the music industry - the song actually labours a point that T.A.N.G. makes with ease.

Ironically, one of the band members of T.A.N.G. is a band member of The Arrogants (the lead singer's husband).

The telling of truth can be a delicate matter. There is, unfortunately, a trend afoot to make truth somehow slippery and evasive or unknowable, and this borders on deceit.

On the other hand, we see those who can only tell truth by taking everyone out the back of the woodshed for a talking-to.

Emily Dickinson gave us that line: "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Eugene Peterson has prodcued a series of lectures on the parables of Jesus using the title, 'Tell it slant'.

This is not about making truth slippery; it is, instead, about reading human beings well as we engage in the business of truth-telling.

Sometimes the court jester has more success in making truth apparent than the lecturer. There is a way of telling truth that comes in under the radar, that comes not straight at our armour but with a glancing sideways blow instead. And it strikes us hard and deep when and where we least expect it.

Jesus did this with his parables. T.A.N.G. apparently did it with their songs. And The Arrogants manage to take a slant telling of truth, and give it to us straight. A bit like someone producing a film called 'This was Spinal Tap: the documentary behind the mockumentary'.

(That said, I have been enjoying the album; it was hard to argue with the price.)

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