I’ve been told that there are those who will learn how to fly

After editing that Second Chapter of Acts album cover recently, I had “Mansion Builder” stuck in my head for days.

It can be such a pretty song that I almost don’t mind the vapid otherworldliness of its theology. Almost.

But I really liked this a capella rendition by a group of cousins at a funeral. Gospel harmonies change the context and the meaning of the song. It relocates the song. Instead of being about flying away to a heavenly mansion, Gospel music reaches up to yank heaven down here where it belongs.

When it succeeds at that, there’s nothing quite like it, which is why this Conan O’Brien bit in which he rehearses with, and attempts to direct, the Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist church choir, has moments that transcend Conan’s sublime silliness.

Young Kiwi singer Gin Wigmore experienced the power of Gospel music when she attended the Rev. Al Green’s church in Memphis. It was her first-ever church service:

Al Green comes out and says — he’s got a bit of a rusty voice this morning, yet he still nails it, sings every song. And it’s this total celebration. And people are, you know, fainting, and there’s white sheets being run out over people. And it was just totally eye opening.

And I was — I walked out of there, and I was like, right, I’m committed. I’m totally — religion is my thing. I’m going to church every Sunday. … And then I kind of thought about it for about another five minutes and thought, well … if they were actually going to be like this ever again, and it means I have to get up at 10 a.m. every Sunday. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

My favorite bit from that interview was Wigmore’s description of her visit to a juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi:

It was really cool. It was Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson’s kind of stomping ground back in the day, so it had all that kind of flavor down there. … I ball on in — as you say, pretty delicate at the time with flowing blonde hair … and they’re like, you know, they look at me pretty much up and down about 50 times and say, what are you doing? I said: Well, I’m from New Zealand. I’m here to make a blues record. And they’re like: Oh, yeah. … It was a nice rude awakening, you know, really, that I knew nothing about the blues and that if, you know, he quickly advised me that if I found myself from getting from New Zealand to Clarksdale, Mississippi, that I’d never have the blues because I could afford the plane ticket.

In a similar vein, here’s Roger Ebert on eschatology:

Because we are human, because we are bound by gravity and the limitations of our bodies, because we live in a world where the news is often bad and the prospects disturbing, there is a need for another world somewhere, a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers live.

And speaking of transcendent art, funerals, and resurrection, I hope you didn’t miss this video of a church’s Easter service gone horribly wrong. Or should I say, a church’s Easter service gone horribly awesome. It reminds me of the classic funeral scene in Elizabethtown. My Morning Jacket’s epic rendition of “Freebird” has more spiritual depth than the over-eager music in that church service — methinks they doth profess too much. But I still have to admire the singer for never skipping a beat.


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  • Jessica_R

    One of my favorite types of showtunes is the faux gospel number. Some examples: (And oh how I died at that pageant clip)

    “The Brotherhood of Man” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69WpCBLrdSQ

    “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-Ql-fduIdM

    “A Star Is Born” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8iKgNjiroE

  • And I’ve been told there’ll come a time
    When the sun will cease to shine
    And that there is a Morning Star
    Who knows my mind

    Wow. Um, yay?


  • Baby_Raptor

    Yeah, its a bit creepy. Sometimes *I* feel like I don’t even know my mind. Not sure I want other people doing it for me.

  • Plus the whole “sun will cease to shine” thing. Nothing like celebrating the end of the world.

  • Br. Jay

    Ha! I remember that song. Now I may have to listen to it for good measure, even if I no longer share their theology. Thanks for the memories!

  • Wednesday

    I, um…. I thought the Morning Star was classically identified with Lucifer.

  • ReverendRef

    That video from the Easter service was too funny. Glad nobody was hurt.

    Here’s a video more along the lines of how we do pyrotechnics (it’s from a Catholic church, and the priest does some Spanish, but you’ll get the idea).


    As it turns out, the priest in the video is now serving in my current town. I’ll have to let him know I found this.

  • Lori

    Not an REM, then? :)

  • Amaryllis

    They were probably thinking of this verse:

    “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the
    churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and
    Morning Star.”

    Revelation 22:16

    And possibly also of 2 Peter 1:19:

    “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your

    Bright morning star a-rising,
    Bright morning star a-rising,
    Bright morning star a-rising,
    Day is a-breaking in my soul.

    – Traditional, here sung by Oysterband.

  • Hexep

    In other news, a 7.0 earthquake in Lushan County, Sichuan province has thus far claimed the lives of 186 people, with over 40,000 injuries and 1.5 million left with damaged or destroyed homes. 18,000 relief agents have been mobilized by the government, but with over 1,700 aftershocks – some reaching as strong as 5.4 magnitude – rescue progress has been slow.

  • flat

    yes I heard about it my prayers are with you.

  • flat

    Not an easter song, but the unholy torment of our eardrums that is the so called king’s song has been withdrawn.

    Sometimes my fellow dutch people are disapointing me but not in this case.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Rape metaphors: not cool.

  • flat

    you are right I just fixed it, sorry.

  • Hexep

    If nothing else, these latest events have steeled my conviction that I am never, ever, ever going to Sichuan.

  • flat

    breaking news:The comitee that’s in charge of the music decided to bring it back for the abdication.

  • … just as there is no “wrong” way to practice Christianity as long as you follow Christian ethics.

    That might be a flawed analogy; depending on the Christian you’re asking, at the time of the 2010 census there could be up to 32,999 wrong ways to practice Christianity. ;)

  • reynard61

    “Wait a minute, this sounds like Rock and/or Roll!”

  • Aaron

    My wife went to school with Gin Wigmore.
    She has nothing nice to say about her at all from that time. Seems she was known for mocking the girl with a wooden leg…