It´s a Sin, Sadness Part 1 and Like a Prayer : Music as Religion

Videos with Religion as core subject: “It´s a Sin”, “Sadness Part 1” and “Like a Prayer” have been a big part of our popular culture.

I have been thinking about Religion lately. I think there are different reasons for that: I am taking a course on Coursera called “Soul Beliefs
I have always enjoyed reading about religions and spirituality, also, I am going through a transition phase in my life which makes me question my beliefs and also. At the same time, we (as in the planet Earth) are being constantly bombarded by the media with news like the “derailment” of Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus and headlines that not so subtly promote “judgement” and also ferment American values and go in accordance with that whole concept of a “Christian Nation”. This sort of scandals and attitude from generally kind and decent people makes me wonder why is religion so offended by art? Is it because art is a creative process and “GOD” should be the only “creator”? Is it because there is no control over an artistic endeavor if the artist is truly free and lets the experience flow so that art expresses itself? Anyway,  I couldn’t go down that thought path without thinking about controversial videos on the subject and I decided to do a “One on One” between Pet Shop Boys “It´s a Sin”, Enigma´s “Sadness Part One” and Madonna´s “Like a Prayer”. Lets start with the first one released.

“It´s a Sin” – Pet Shop Boys

It is the first time one of my favorite bands is featured here and that is none other than Pet Shop Boys. I will write more about them in a post. SOON. The song is the lead single for the band´s “Actually” album. It was released in June 1987. The song was written by Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant (one of the most distinguishable voices in electronic music?) and it quotes Latin masses, specifically  “The Confiteor” (its name meaning “I confess” and is one of the prayers that can be said during the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass in the Roman Rite in the Catholic church). Tennant has said that he wrote the lyrics in 15 minutes, purging his emotions in a moment of frustration and anger.

“When I look back upon my life
It’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too”

The video was directed by Derek Jarman, an experimental director/filmmaker who directed music videos for The Sex Pistols, Marianne Faithfull, Marc Almond, Bryan Ferry and the Smiths. It takes place in a Monastery and Neil is being judged by the Inquisition. Coming from a Catholic family, I can relate to that, that sense of shame and blame and guilt. I was only 10 years old when the video came out, but I memorized the lyrics almost straight away and they were one of the first ones to cause a real impact in me. I remember watching a show Friday afternoons where they discussed videos, and this one was one that was constantly being played and talked about. At the time I didn’t know Tennant was gay, and I think it must have been horrible for him to grow up in that restricted, close minded environment.
“At school they taught me how to be
So pure in thought and word and deed
They didn’t quite succeed”

The last thing I have to say about that is I am glad they didn’t succeed.

“Like a Prayer” – Madonna

It´s been four months and I can´t believe this is the first post of ours to deconstruct a video by Madonna…I promise I will make up for that and do another post about her. She is certainly royalty and I will not ignore her any longer. (Victor, I know you are reading, so here you go <3). It was released in March 3- 1989 as the Lead Single for her album with the same name as the track. It was written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, and it showed Madonna´s more personal approach to songwriting. The video was directed by Mary Lambert and evokes images of rape, white supremacy, cross burning, the singer dreaming about having sex with a black saint and the struggle between doing what is easy (running away) or doing what is right (testify as a witness in defense of the wrongly accused). The video created WORLD WIDE CHAOS…the reaction from different groups, the media and the Church was astonishing. You could not pay for the amount of publicity that video got (or could you? Maybe she did and that is why she became known and respected as an artist that could “sell a concept” ? Maybe theories about her being a puppet for the Illuminati are true and “they” paid for it? These are questions for you to ponder, I have enough things going over and over in my head). Growing up in a Catholic country, I cannot overstate WHAT A HUGE SCANDAL it was. This is a country  where we still have Senators (legitimately elected politicians) still discussing music videos. Just last month there was a National Scandal with the declarations a Senator made against Shakira and Rhianna´s latest video. AS IF THEY DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT!

madonna_CROSS

As mentioned before, the video does present very strong and racy images. This one with the crosses burning in the background while she shows us her cleavage is something that if today we might find a tad controversial (and may I ask, unnecessary?) in 1989 was the strongest thing out there. It was almost “Blasphemy”. The definition of blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God, religious or holy persons or things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable. Another strong moment in the video is when she presents herself as a Stigmata (body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to Jesus Christ´s crucifixion wounds).

MADONNA - STIGMATA

The Catholic Church, Muslim and Jewish leaders joined together to condemn her. I remember the video was a conversation going on in dinner parties,  school and my aunts card game ( one day I will write about that card game and the words and wisdom and also the “wrongness” of it) and  many people went as far as suggesting she be excommunicated. I personally don´t think she goes to church every Sunday. Also, in the 25 years since the video came out (SHIT! I NEED TO STOP COUNTING YEARS, this is another reason I am afraid of numbers, few things can make me feel as old as numbers). Anyway,though the past quarter of  a century the video went to a second place to be replaced by her live performances of this song (there are several in my mind, but I can recall the Live 8 performance she did in Hyde Park in the year 2005…the song went from being a “controversial” song to becoming almost an anthem for Spirituality. Plus, I don’t think Gospel has ever sounded so funky.

“Sadness Part One” – Enigma

Sadeness (Part I)” is a song by German musical project Enigma. It was released in 1990 and became an international hit. Of the three videos, it is personally the one that impacted me the most and I actually remember the first time I watched it I was scared. I was confused by the moaning in the Gregorian chants and in general I just felt they had gone too far. That was probably because I used to go after school with my mom to my grandma´s house and listen in on the card game conversation. Today, I find the song one of the more memorable ones of the 90´s and the video as well. I found 2 interesting interpretations of the song:

VERSION ONE.

The lyrics are in Latin  and French and include a quotation of the Psalm 24:7 – 8. The first part of the Psalm is:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

VERSION TWO.

The man who falls asleep at the beginning of the video is the famous Marquis de Sade. The song plays with the idea of sadism as a sexual/spiritual practice.

Enigma-SadnessPart1-3

 She asks:

Sade, tell me
Sade, give it to me (“give it to me” is a sexual reference)
Let us come in peace (a play on the word “come”)
In the name of Christ, Amen (a teasing sacrilegious reference in this context).

I will let you chose the one that suits you most.

These videos have several things in common: They were released in the late 1980´s, beginning of 1990´s, they were all “dance” records but they all had a deep message, introvert and personal, the singers wrote the songs, and the songs were used later on as anthems for the oppressed, specially the Gay community. That time lapse was also an important moment for that community as a whole, when artists started coming out more frequently and there was a sense of community because of all the deaths resulting from the AIDS epidemic. When they came out, they generated controversy and ire from radical groups and people around the years. But, as I read a few days ago (can´t quote because I don’t remember who or the exact words) but it said something like the objective of art is to shake the comfortable and comfort the shaken…these songs, although considered attention seeking and temporary its, became for a large fragment of music fans the comfort, the relatable quality, and formed links between the artist and the audience, the kind of closeness and intimacy that only comes from sharing one´s dark side. When that connection happens, when there is no longer a division between “you” and “me” , when there is a sense of “oneness”…it is almost a religious experience. That is what music does.It doesn’t matter to me what “established religion” might have to say about an artist and their creative risks: if it elevates you to a place of oneness and love and understanding, then that for me is what spirituality is all about. That is my type of religion. Music is my religion.

Share the loveShare on Facebook0Share on Tumblr0Tweet about this on Twitter

3 thoughts on “It´s a Sin, Sadness Part 1 and Like a Prayer : Music as Religion

  1. What a great post and EXCELLENT discussion that could go on for a long time. Faith is a wonderful thing to have in your life. It provides hope, it inspires feelings of love and peace. Faith’s biggest problem is RELIGION.Religion is the vessel that can corrupt the purity of faith. “Treat others as you would like to be treated” I just summoned up the Christian Faith – DO good and BE good. The bottom line of most faiths is not to be an A$$*&6% and help others who are less fortunate – The transformation of such basic truths became contaminated once someone realized how much money can be made and that money only comes when you control the people. If everything different than the norm can be labeled a “sin” you must stay away from it even if you can receive enlightenment or a different perspective. This is slavery of the mind that keeps people mentally trapped in the 1st and 2nd centuries… the fastest way to mind control, is shame and fear. I remember the scandal behind the Madonna video – I thought it was a great way for her to create attention for an OK song and her new Pepsi contract. I am always struck by the trumpet of hypocrisy of so called Christian nations who conveniently forget their violent pasts (and present) for most, to focus on the most trivial things. The new Rihanna and Shakira video? was not shocking at all and actually pretty tame by today’s standards. I am sure your politicians did exactly what they intended, their “outrage” was on the news and in the papers, pushing out much needed time and space to focus on the real issues of your country…clever misdirection for those who aren’t clever enough to see it for what it was… once in a while what you believe needs to be fiercely challenged, so that you may understand why you truly believe it -is it a personal belief? Or societal? familial? Faith should be personal and should be able to stand up against three minutes of visually illustrated pop music. I love music, I love the arts – I write. I create. I challenge my beliefs and I am not afraid of who I am. Perhaps those who are afraid of being who they truly are and not what is expected of them find brash and uninhibited displays of creativity terrifying? Maybe art is scary because they can not control it and are secretly envious of it? Maybe their rage keeps the “sheep” in line? Maybe the true fear is independent thought?…Great music this week, fantastic discussion. Thank you for this.

    1. Hello
      Thank you for your comment (on the last post and on this one!). We both love comments.
      I agree with you, I appreciate meditation, wanting to be a better person, and in general I respect people´s beliefs, but I think religion has played a big part in radicalizing and dividing humanity.
      Being and anarchist, I also think that “slavery of the mind” is our biggest problem, the fear of realizing our won power and potential.
      Many people here in Colombia know that the Senator was just creating noise, but sadly it is still a “catholic” country and people will listen to their priest…they wont question motives behind may things 🙁
      As I said on the first paragraph and you mention here, I think they are afraid of the power of individuality.
      Again, thanks for your comments! Keep them coming 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *