Friday, March 4, 2011

Jesus Music: Heaven is for the Hungry

This one is going to be short.  We aren't going to explore any deep themes here.  Nothing about faith and the human condition.  This is just a ... thing.  I don't know if it qualifies as a coincidence, or deja vu, or anything like that.  It probably meets Alanis Morissette's definition of irony, but that isn't quite right either.  Let's just get to it.

In 1996, Australian Christian pop-rock band Newsboys released their sixth album, Take Me To Your Leader.  It was their third commercial success in the United States, and it cemented the band's status as one of the very biggest acts in the Christian music universe.  According to one probably-unreliable website, the band has sold over five million records, and has had nineteen #1 radio hits.  According to the likely-more-reliable Wikipedia, Take Me To Your Leader had eight radio singles by itself.

One of those was a song titled "Breakfast," a light-hearted tune whose message was (and I am dead serious here) that you don't want to go to hell, because hell does not stock your favorite cereals.  I'm going to swipe the lyrics because otherwise I don't think you'd believe me that that this song really exists:

Hold the milk, put back the sugarThey are powerless to consoleWe've gathered here to sprinkle ashesFrom our late friend's cereal bowl
Breakfast Clubbers, say the mottoThat he taught us to repeat"You won't lose it in your gym class if you wait'till noon to eat."
Back when the Chess Club said our eggs were softEvery Monday he'd say grace and hold our juice aloftOh, none of us knew his check-out time would come so soonBut before his brain stopped waving He composed this tune.


When the toast is burned
And all the milk has turned 
And Captain Crunch is waving farewell
When the big one finds you 
Let this song remind you 
That they don't serve breakfast in hell.

Breakfast clubbers, drop the hankies

Though to some our friend was odd,
That day he bought those pine pajamas 
His check was good with God
Those here without the Lord,
How do you cope?
For this morning we don't mourn
Like those who have no hope
Oh, rise up, Fruit Loop Lovers
Sing out sweet and low
With spoons held high
We Bid our brother, "Cheerio!" 
You must try to lead a good life

Let me just remind everyone that this album is one of the seminal documents of my adolescence.  I have probably listened to this album more than The Hold Steady's entire catalog combined.


Years later, after I left the ghetto of Christian rock behind, I found myself listening to a wide variety of different music.  Among those new discoveries was a band called the Mountain Goats, largely the brainchild of one man, John Darnielle.  There are hundreds of Mountain Goats songs, mostly songs about love and loss and everyday life, like most other bands, but there are also darker songs about drugs and depression and mental illness and even one song where, at shows, John will lead the crowd in a chant of "HAIL SATAN!"  It's weirdly very uplifting.

The man wrote a novella based on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality, set in a psych ward.  On the other hand, he also wrote an entire album where each song was based on a different Bible verse.  As a songwriter, he wears many hats.

And, in 1998, he wrote a song called "Golden Boy," originally for a compilation called Object Lessons, later included on the 1999 Mountain Goats album Ghana.  "Golden Boy," which has become a cult favorite among already-cultish Mountain Goats fans ... is a song about how you don't want to go to hell, because hell does not stock your favorite snack foods.  Again, here are the lyrics:

You must do unto others as you would have them do
So that when you die you'll find golden boy peanuts waiting in the
Afterlife for you
There are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy golden boy peanuts
There are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy golden boy peanuts
If thine enemy oppresseth you
You must let him oppress you some more
So that when you go shopping in paradise
You'll find those magnificent peanuts from singapore
With the drawing of the young chinese farmer
The eastern sun behind him smiling at you from the shelves
If we want to spend eternity in happiness
Well we're gonna have watch ourselves
You must give to the march of dimes
You must be on guard against wickedness at all times
And you'll find that your efforts have brought you great joy
When your spirit is munching on that golden boy
There are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy golden boy peanuts there
But the streets of heaven are lined with shelves
And there's billboards of the golden boy everywhere
There are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy golden boy peanuts
There are no pan asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy golden boy peanuts... GO!  

There is nothing on the internet pointing to a connection between these two songs ... and why would there be?  Why would Darnielle listen to Newsboys, and, even if he did know about "Breakfast," why would he write a song so thematically similar?  The only explanation that makes any sense is that these songs exist completely independent of each other.

The fundamentalist Christian believes that every coincidence is a sign from God, proof of a divine hand in the daily workings of our lives.  The argumentative atheist claims that these kinds of serendipitous moments exist outside the supernatural realm, that our lives are strange and mysterious and beautiful and complex even without writing an invisible main character into them.  And we're obviously not going to settle that argument here.

But we live in a world where two prolific songwriters, two men who have spent countless hours pondering the mysteries of eternity, two men who have attempted to convey through art something that is probably unconveyable ... two men dreamed of heaven and thought, "Well, you could get, like, pretty much anything you wanted to eat up there."

And that makes me happy.

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