Friday, September 15, 2006
It occurred to me that I am about 2/3 through my jesus year and I haven't really posted much about the dude. It's also fresh in my mind because, on the eve of the AK Bachelor Party, we rehashed the old argument over what Jeff Mangum meant when he yelled "I love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do" to start off King Of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 and 3 on 1997's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The argument was over what exactly he meant by that seemingly obvious statement and whether or not it mattered. The easily dismissed interpretation is that he was saying he loved someone and using "jesus christ" for emphasis. It's pretty clear from the song that "jesus christ" is the object of his love. So, the question becomes is he a proselytizing Christian rocker or is he just making a personal statement without pushing it on anyone, or is he using it as a metaphor. Basically, is it significant to a bunch of athiest rock and roll fans? There are 5 relevant pieces of text to consider: a statement in the liner notes and 4 mentions of the lyric in Kim Cooper's submission to the 33 1/3 series on the album.
The liner notes contain one giant run on lyric of all the songs on the album. In lieu of the lyric in question, Jeff wrote the following and then continued with the other lyrics: "a song for an old friend and a song for a new friend and now a song for jesus christ and since this seems to confuse people i'd like to simply say that i mean what i sing although the theme of endless endless on this album is not based on any religion but more in the belief that all things seem to contain a white light within them that i see as eternal".
The first excerpt from 33 1/3 doesn't reference the lyric but is informative nonetheless. "Jeff spoke of the church camps he attended from age 11 through 17, 'where everything was very open. We talked about sexuality freely. It wasn't really hippie, it was just weird. You could spill your guts all over the place. People were leaping and freaking out. It wasn't so much a God trip as an emotional trip. Even if you were an athiest, if your parents shipped you down there, you could talk about it. You could talk openly about your athiest beliefs and there would be debates; and being an athiest was as beautiful as anything else.'"
The second mention was in reference to the performance at Jittery Joe's which I believe was the first time he played the song live. "When Jeff sang the lyrics 'I love you Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do,' Lance found it shocking. There's a lot of Christianity in the South, but within the weirdo musical subculture represented by the people in that room, such a naked expression of faith was completely unexpected. And compelling. Lance couldn't wait to see what Jeff would say or do next. 'It kinda made it clear that he was writing expressively, but maybe wasn't overly worried about what other people thought or crafting things to make it easy on his audience. Here was someone who was a bit more fucked up and challenging and visceral.'"
On the recording: "During the sessions, 'The King of Carrot Flowers Pts Two & Three' again raised eyebrows, Martyn Leaper's specifically. When he first heard Jeff sing "I love you Jesus Christ," he didn't know how to take it. As someone who'd always had problems with organized religion, he was repelled. But as a songwriter, he was stunned by the profound and fearless honesty with which jeff was expressing his faith. Jeff didn't seem to give a damn what anyone thought of him, or if it seemed uncool. And it's this naked honesty, Martyn thinks, that has brought so many people to the record - even folks who aren't themselves religious are touched by Jeff's faith and guts."
On the song: "'Pt. One' ends with a spacey drone that oozes into this track's initial gutsy cry 'I love you Jesus Christ,' which is the spot where aggressively non-Christian listeners have to make a conscious decision to stay with the music. But is the expression one of love for the Savior or for another person, punctuated by the emphatic invocation of J.C.? Jeff repeatedly made it clear that he was singing about Jesus, but the alternative interpretation is there for those who need it. Either way, it feels real and raw and fearless".
Again, it's pretty clear to me that he's singing about Jesus. It's also clear that the lyric cannot be abstracted from the context of both the album and of the culture of rock in the South. It's a wildly emotive piece of work, so it's not really surprising that he would include such a sentiment, considering other lyrics of note include "your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder and your dad would throw the garbage all across the floor", and "semen stains the mountaintops, semen stains the mountaintops", and "and I know they buried her body with others her sister and mother and 500 families and will she remember me 50 years later I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine", and other references to Anne Frank. The album is intense and all over the place, so the shocking lyric in question fits right in. In the indie rock world, particularly in the South, it's as radical as the rest of it.
Artists have all sorts of images and icons at their disposal when crafting their creations. The icon, the concept, the metaphor of Jesus is obviously a huge one in our Western society. When I first heard the song, I was taken aback too, but I figured that he was using "jesus" as a metaphor to represent all that the man stood for. Of course, I'm looking at this from a biased perspective, which is unavoidable. I was raised Catholic, later rejected my belief in god, but retained my belief that much of what Jesus the man stood for was liberal, progressive, pacifist, and generally righteous, as opposed to the image of him pushed on us by the co-opting christian conservative right in this country. I think that my Catholic relatives in the midwest, whose progressive politics come from their belief in Jesus and their interpretations of his teachings, have a more accurate understanding of christianity than the conservatives do. So, I heard the song and thought "oh, he must be using that lyric as an expression of his support for progressive ideals". Which is total bullshit obviously. Everyone hears the lyric through a loaded understanding of what "jesus christ" means. AK and other "aggressively non-christian listeners" hear it one way, conservative christian rockers hear it another, I hear it another. Does it matter? No. Jeff wasn't proselytizing, so it shouldn't concern us. He may or may not believe in Jesus, and if he does he may do so in one of many varied ways. What's weird is that, given the intensity of the delivery of the lyric, it's almost as if it's really got nothing to do with us. He doesn't seem to be talking to us. He's talking only to "jesus christ", whatever that means, and we're irrelevant witnesses to his conversation.
And this brings me to the really important thing: someone made a lounge chair that looks like a crucifix. That's really fucking cool. Jesus was way cool.