Violence and Redemption

My major project for my first summer school class on Contemporary Trends in Literature is a review of literature on a contemporary trend (duh, right?). At first I had no idea what to write about; I was really interested in John Updike but unsure of a topic. Then, in the middle of class once night, I had a sudden thought (aren’t those great?) about violence as a catalyst for grace in one of Updike’s short stories. I started scrawling notes on my page and realized that this trend also appeared in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories–and then I found my topic.

Eventually, I dropped Updike altogether; there’s just too much good research on Flannery, and the essay should only be five pages–a bit more if necessary (I’m already past 5, of course).

So here’s my idea (and other critics’, of course): Flannery, the good Catholic living in the Christ-haunted South, saw violence as shocking enough to bring about redemption. Moments of violence are often so intense and real that salvation is a direct result.

On one of my long drives home from class one night, I thought about this intersection of violence and grace. My salvation story is far from violent. I didn’t watch my family get slaughtered by a convict called the Misfit and his cronies; I didn’t have a Bible salesman steal my wooden leg. Violence just isn’t a part of my own story of grace. Then I realized that even if, personally, I haven’t experienced that kind of violence, the grace that led to my own salvation is absolutely rooted in the darkest violence imaginable. What could be more violent that my Savior, the Son of God, being crucified? Flannery O’Connor, in interweaving grace and violence, is only re-telling the most beautiful story ever written: grace is so wonderful because it is triumphant over violence.

I’m so gonna love talking about this idea in class on Monday night. 🙂

On Intertextuality: Emerson, Meet Mumford

Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of Transcendentalism and philosopher extraordinaire, occasionally amuses me. Take, for instance, this passage from Nature:

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.

Okay, that’s not actually the amusing part yet. Be patient. I really love this concept that a change in perspective makes the world seem new. The amusing part comes at the end of the paragraph. Imagine, if you will, our austere and brilliant Emerson in this position:

Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs, and how agreeable is the picture, though you have seen it any time these twenty years!

Oh, my, gosh, can you imagine Emerson bending over to look over Walden Pond though his legs? Hilarious!

So, now that we’ve laughed at Emerson a bit, let’s move on to something even greater. I was listening to Mumford & Sons this week (as I do pretty much every day), and I thought about these lyrics from their song “The Cave”:

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land

Okay, so Mumford & Sons’ version involves a little bit of gymnastics rather than just bending at the waist, but I love that the idea of looking at the world in a different way appears in both of these texts.

I also appreciate the ideas presented about nature in the two: Emerson talks about freedom (emancipation) while Mumford talks about dependence. [Side note: after reading SPIN’s June cover story on Mumford & Sons in which Marcus Mumford talks about the importance of faith, I’m even more convinced that the biblical references throughout this album are very intentional.] At any rate, I think both Emerson and Mumford might agree that nature points to the existence of a Creator.

Now, for fun, watch this video of Mumford & Sons playing “The Cave” in a bookstore. Go on, you know you want to.

26: A Playlist for the Alphabet

Tomorrow is my 26th birthday. While last year seemed like such a milestone, this year, I’m not sure I’ll even celebrate. Maybe that’s because I’m busy and tired, or maybe it’s because most of the people I want to celebrate with are out-of-town or busy. Probably, though, it’s because 26 just doesn’t seem like a special number. (25 = 5 x 5. I like everything to be in multiples of 5, so last year, 25 just seemed like the absolute perfect number and the perfect age to be. Weird, huh?)

However, 26 is the number of letters in the English alphabet, so that’s kind of cool. To celebrate, I decided to make a new iTunes playlist–one of my favorite songs for each letter of the alphabet. You’d be surprised how difficult that was–do you know how many of my favorite songs start with the letter W? A lot. But here’s what I came up with:

A: “Awake My Soul,” Mumford & Sons.

My most-played track on iTunes. My current favorite song, period. Is it wrong to tell you that I cried when they played this live Tuesday night in Asheville? I don’t have words to explain how much I love this song. Watch this video and smile because not only is the song beautiful, but Mumford & Sons are also just SO DARN  CUTE. 🙂

B: “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” The Avett Brothers.

The song that made me love The Avett Brothers. Also a beautiful song.

C: “C’Mon, C’Mon,” Switchfoot.

Like so many Switchfoot songs, this one is about purpose and fighting for a life worth living. It’s from one of their EPs, and I actually only acquired it a few months ago.

D: “Drift Away,” Dobie Gray.

Old-school rock ‘n roll. Music about music. Wonderful. Also, this video is Dobie Gray singing the song in 1974.

E: “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” The Gaslight Anthem.

My favorite song from the fantastic album The ’59 Sound. I love this song because it’s slow and nostalgic and it still rocks. This is a song that makes me want to be young and idealistic and never really grow up.

F: “Fields of Gold,” Sting.

One of the songs I grew up hearing on the radio that I realized as I got older I really, really loved. But then again, how could you not love Sting?

G: “Gold Digger,” Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx.

No, this isn’t a joke. This actually is one of my favorite songs–so much so that it was easy to pick out a track for the letter G. I can sing all the words to the song. Harvin finds this fact to be the absolute most intriguing thing about me.

H: “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise,” The Avett Brothers.

Sometimes, this (along with “Awake My Soul”) is just what I need to give me the energy to walk out of the door and face a new day: “If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected / Decide what to be and go be it.” Also, the video is just wonderful.

I: “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Death Cab for Cutie.

Now, for something completely different. Melancholy and a bit emo, but I love it anyway.

J: “Joy to the World,” Three Dog Night.

Do I really need to explain why this song is awesome?

K: “Kiss Me,” Sixpence None the Richer.

This song came out when I was 13 and obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who, at the time, was attending the prom without her vampire boyfriend Angel. 🙂 This song is everything a romance-minded 13-year-old girl could love, and I (not so secretly now) still love the song.

L: “Let Me Back In,” Explosions in the Sky.

From their newest album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. The first time I heard this, I was on the way to work (I had woken up early to download the album on the release day). And I realized when listening to this track that I was grinning like crazy because this song is so crazily-beautifully-wonderfully fun and hopeful that I could not control my smile.

M: “Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows.

I never get sick of this song. I can’t even explain why it’s so good; it just is. I love Counting Crows, but this is unarguably the greatest song they’ve ever written.

N: “Next to Me,” Civil Twilight.

This was also a difficult letter to choose, but in the end, I had to go with one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. This is one of Civil Twilight’s newest songs (from the re-released album that actually came out about a year and a half ago), and it’s my current favorite CT song.

O: “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers.

Oh, the 90s. Weren’t they great?

P: “Pinebox,” The Winter Sounds.

If you’ve never listened to The Winter Sounds, go look them up right now. They’re amazing. They’re also great live, and this is such a phenomenal song.

Q: “The Queen of Lower Chelsea,” The Gaslight Anthem.

Not many songs start with the letter Q, but fortunately, there’s at least one great one. From The Gaslight Anthem’s last album, American Slang, released last summer. They grew up some after The ’59 Sound, and if that album made me want to stay young and idealistic, this album makes me realize that, even if being an adult brings changes, it’ll be okay anyway.

R: “Ready to Start,” Arcade Fire.

From The Suburbs, which rightfully won Album of the Year at the Grammys this year. Good heavens, this album is amazing from start to finish, and even though this song wasn’t my favorite in the beginning, I’ve found myself listening to it more and more lately as I’ve realized how brilliant it is. The song is edgy and even a bit defensive; it’s about recognizing that we often do things because of what other people we think, and it’s about being intentional in saying we’re not going to live our lives a certain way just because other people do to. Example: “All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes / But they bow down to him anyway / Because it’s better than being alone.”

After Arcade Fire accepted the Grammy, Win Butler set the trophy on an amp and proceeded to play this song as everyone started asking, “Who is Arcade Fire?!?”

S: “Stand By Me,” Ben E. King.

“When the night is young / And the land is dark / And the moon is the only light we’ll see . . . ” Come on, you know you love it, too.

T: “Teardrop (Live),” Civil Twilight.

I discovered the band Massive Attack because Civil Twilight almost always covers this wonderful song at their shows. The lyrics are a little different, and I prefer Civil Twilight’s version (probably because I just love them so freakin’ much.) Also, aren’t they adorable? Yes, yes, they are.

U: “Uprising,” Muse.

Epic. So epic.

V: “Virgin,” Manchester Orchestra.

This song makes me want to fight somebody. I get sort of twitchy and restless when I listen to it. That’s actually just what I expect of Manchester Orchestra. I don’t really know why that’s a good thing; it just is. Here’s the band performing on Letterman just a few weeks ago:

W: “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire.

Although a ton of great songs start with W, this was the obvious choice. I like to listen to this song on repeat while I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Expect a lengthy blog post about that soon. In the meantime, go to the website The Wilderness Downtown and be amazed.

X: “Xanadu,” Olivia Newton-John.

I almost cheated and chose Moby’s “Extreme Ways” for this, but then I decided not to break my self-imposed rules. I chose this one because Xanadu is a ridiculously awesome movie, just like the 80s.

Y: “Your Hand in Mine,” Explosions in the Sky.

My favorite Explosions song. So beautiful. [Note: This almost lost to my favorite Switchfoot song “Your Love is a Song.” But in the end, I decided this was even better to start closing out the playlist.]

Z: “Zephyrus,” Bloc Party.

I had one song that starts with Z in my entire iTunes library. Fortunately, it’s a great song by a great band.