Rock N' Soul: Amos Lee, The Power of Music, and The Near Gospel Truth

Desperate single ladies can sometimes be really obnoxious. I had the privilege of staying in quaint Bed & Breakfast and attending an Amos Lee concert this weekend. It was a tremendous gift to my wife and I from some of the dearest friends (thank you a thousand times over Kyle and Bethany). The concert was wonderful, but there was one particular woman, just up the aisle from us, who had come to the show for apparently two reasons: to get plastered, and to shout out how deeply, madly, desperately in love with Amos she was… every five minutes. She of course was not alone, for on some level we were all there because we love Amos; maybe our love was not the same as her’s, but love of his music abounded. What amazed me most, however, was not the number of crazy single ladies, but rather the number of references to Jesus, God, and salvation. And more to the point, it seemed that most of the audience was just as comfortable with these references as they were with any other ones.

I don’t know Amos’ story with any real depth to be able to tell if the church or personal faith are or were a part of it. The history of blues and soul music is, of course, filled with references to Jesus, and Lee is a quality blues musician. It was quite a sight to watch half drunk people, with Coors cans in hand, sing along to “Jesus can you help me now.” Even the lesbian couple in front of us enjoyed the opening act, a duo of sisters from Alabama who sang some old gospel hymns. The whole experience reminded me of two things: (1) that music has a certain power, and (2) that there is a commonplace comfort people have with Jesus.

There are some things which possess an almost innate power. One such thing is Amos Lee’s voice, which is smokey, rich, and captivating. But in general terms music has this power over us to draw us in and to keep us. It has a way of making real ideas even more affecting. Amos sang about love (In the Arms of Woman) and dozens of women seemingly swooned. He sang about hardships and hopes (Careless, Keep It Loose, Keep it Tight, Bottom of the Barrel), which made the whole room shout and cheer. But as he sang about Jesus, salvation, and the cleansing of the soul the room sang right along. The music was so compelling and his voice so alluring  that you can’t help but sing along. Poets and musicians hold such a power in our culture (granted it is one that we give them), I can only say that I am grateful for the responsibility that Lee seemingly takes for his music.

The power of music is, however, something you might notice at any concert. There were as many people worshiping Amos Lee last night as there will be worshiping the next band to play Indianapolis. But the recurring gospel-themes were a somewhat unique feature for Lee’s performance. It reminded me of just how much people like Jesus. Most have no real problem with this character of American culture. He is so natural for many, especially in the Midwest. In fact historian Stephen Nichols has stated that Jesus is as American as apple pie. Now, it’s not the same “Jesus” that we see in scripture. Most of the references were to a Jesus who is there to get me out of a pinch, help me realize my dreams, help me get over my past (all good things that Jesus can do, but not quite the heart of who He is). It was really a “Jesus” of the near gospel truth, the Jesus of much common cultural spiritual thinking. It was both endearing to see and hear and sad. Many people believe that this is all the Jesus they need. Many folks last night were near to the Kingdom of Heaven, but only God knows if they are in. This is true for many of us and many that we know. Being okay with the culture’s picture of Jesus is not enough… no matter how smooth and cool it sounds.

About Dave Dunham

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