It's back to school time. The Law School begins classes on Wednesday. This semester I am offering my seminar on Law & Theology, so let's use a theological concept to select our Sunday music. I choose "theodicy" - the attempt to justify God or, to put it in another way, consider why a good God allows evil.
Theodicy is not a big part of the seminar. In fact, it tends not to come up much at all. But it is a great theme for something like this.
One reaction to the problem of evil in a world we believe to have been created by a good God, seen as early as Job, is anger. God is wrathful. God is capricious. God is a bullet. Or so said Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde. I get the political subtext about guns and the po-lice, but talk about singing the hell out of something. The squeak around 1:42 is brilliant. ("I'm a high school grad/I'm over five foot three"). Napolitano's rendering of the sign of the cross (the penultimate but not - perhaps significantly - the final time) as a slash across the throat suggests our dilemna. Moving, as she does, from left to right, or as Pope Innocent III described it, from misery to grace suggests an answer, echoed by the way in which she crosses herself at the end. All of that was probably unintentional, but my late Mother the artist taught me that a work of art is limited by neither the artist's intent nor interpretation.
Yesterday evening, the Reddess and I stopped by Veteran's Park in Port Washington where Shark, Jr.'s band SuperOpus was playing at the Paul Watry 20th Birthday Party and Memorial Scholarship Fund. (Paul was killed in a hit and run three years.) SuperOpus plays music from the 90s including this song from Radiohead. The awful truth? You bring it on yourself. Or, as the video for the song suggests, the truth is too awful to know. (Incidentally, Chris nails the guitar solo and vocals.)
Some people see evil as an active force and a rather powerful one. I have always thought this song mocked its power and pretension, while acknowldging its seduction. Some people have claimed that it is influenced by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's allegorical novel of good and evil "The Master and Margarita" but I never knew that and haven't read the book. We have, on the one hand, the devil seeking to trick you into saying his name (because you don't know that he is behind whatever compels you) and, at the same time, just about begging you to do so. He needs you more than you need him. I pick the live version at Altamont because I prefer the way the band played the song during it's '69 tour to the recorded version and because I like the dog visiting at 5:42. Of course a guy got killed at Altamont (but - later - during "Under My Thunb") and the '60s CTB'd right then and there. It was, like, 1976 the next day.
Some emphasize the fallen nature of man. Something that has gotten us into a bind, often expressed as the idea that we have made ourselves into Gods. The spirit of this is evoked in Bob Dylan's "License to Kill." Best line: "Man worships/at the altar/ of a stagnant pool/and when he sees his/reflection/he's fufilled."
Then there is the view that complete understandig will elude us but that we can know enough to want to persevere; to say, using Christian imagery from the Annunciation, to say yes to the unfathomable. We are, in the end, born to it.