Saturday, April 02, 2005I have this appreciation for simplicity that seems like such a contradiction. I like nice meals, nice coffee, snazzy clothes and sleek sunglasses, but more than anything I prefer the solitude of a piano and a quiet room. Over the Rhine must understand my feelings, because the new record, Drunkard's Prayer, is the cure for what ails my modern heart. The sounds are simple, little more than piano and guitar. One saxophone, very quiet and delicate. The lyrics are romantic without being silly, passionate without being lewd and honest without being blunt.
I am usually quite good at defining genres; I know jazz and blues and country and punk and postpunk and emo and indie and six different forms of metal, but Over the Rhine leaves me confused. This is not quite jazz, nor is it truly country, but this is no mere pop band. This is a husband and wife in love with music and with each other. Drunkard's Prayer is clearly a glimpse of their own passions and disappointments and joys and sorrows. This is story-telling at it's finest, true romance that soars and whispers at every opportunity. My one caveat is the song "Spark," a delicate plea for peace that, while respectful, is high on rhetoric and low on reality.
Whatever my political differences might be, Karin Bernquist and Linford Detweiler have created a fine record. It is easily the best one I've heard this year. Not that I've heard many new records. It's too hard to keep up, really. I find myself more interested in listening to old Irish folk tunes or revisiting the Belle & Sebastian back catalog. I don't want to buy the new Arcade Fire record; I want to buy Cannonball Adderly. I know there are a lot of things on which I should concentrate, but it's too easy to stick with what works. It's like literature. I know I need to read Moby Dick and The Brothers Kamarazov. Charlotte Simmons has been sitting on a table stand beside my favorite chair for three months now, but you better know I've read a whole lot about college basketball in that time. Movies are the same; I've wandered aimlessly through Blockbuster amid the teeming crowds of happy collegiate couples on Friday night, only to return to the warm confines of Christmas Vacation or Lord of the Rings. We always return to the comfortable, no matter how important it might be to explore the unknown. That's why I've never seen Casablanca.
I'm not sure what any of that has to do with the Pope's death. I cannot appreciate him in the same manner of my Catholic friends, but I can be thankful that within Catholicism, John Paul II helped stem the tide against the bankruptcy of theological liberalism. Likewise I am thankful that he stood with President Reagan, Lady Thatcher and others such as Solzhenitsyn in the fight against Communism. It would be callous to join Christopher Hitchens in criticizing John Paul's political shortcomings. Of course I don't fully agree with Hitch as it concerns this sort of thing. Was the Pontiff wrong? On a few (albeit important) issues, sure, but the man has died. Criticism, if it is to be offered, can wait. Right now, as when Ronald Reagan died, criticisms should be held. Of course Hitchens will not be alone in this critique. It won't believe before the Andrew Sullivans of the world begin to gripe about the Pope's unwillingness to budge on matters of homosexuality, celibacy and radical feminism. I'm more inclined to agree with Mark Roberts; whatever my own theological disagreements are with the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope got a whole lot more right than he got wrong, and we had better hope and pray that a good man takes his place. If not, we evangelicals may find ourselves wishing for a time when theology concerning Mary was our chief concern.
In the meantime, the Southern spring has set in with a vengeance. Yesterday was grotesquely humid. The afternoon was full of thunderstorms and last night was cold and today was windy enough to make driving maddeningly difficult. I know that winter is brutal up north, but at least the seasons are clearly defined. Down here the only thing we on which we can depend is a wretched humidity from late May to late September. Outside of those months, all bets are off. Flip-flops serve as well as wool socks in winter, and springtime is likely to be met with snow flurries and frozen rosebuds.
One final thing before I return to basketball (Go Carolina!) and GRE preparation. I was suffering through Shepard Smith's horrid coverage of the Pope's death on Fox when the President and the First Lady walked into St. Matthew's Cathedral. Of course the President is not a Catholic, but is there any doubt that his presence was a sincere and heartfelt homage to a man he greatly revered? W. will no doubt continue to confound his opponents, but the rest of us understand his generosity, humility and grace.