Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 38) transports me to the basement of my childhood home in Oakley, during my 8th grade year when some fellow middle-schoolers and I formed our first rock and roll band, Deuce (named for our favorite KISS song). We practiced there in the Oakley basement, working on covers of classics like Come on and Love Me, Smoke on the Water, and Tush. My parents were not exactly wild over my musical tastes; we had a couple of “conversations” about some of the lyrics and their concerns that this music had the potential to undermine the morals of my baptist upbringing, under-girded as it was with wholesome lyrics from the Broadman hymnal and the Inspiration #9 book of gospel favorites. Worse than the “conversations” were the withering looks I’d get from my dad whenever he walked into my room while Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were belting out Cold Gin or Hotter than Hell. I remember thinking I was pulling one over on my folks the time I brought home a new 8-track of the group Genesis. I thought that maybe they’d look at the band name and trust I was coming around to better moral influences in my musical tastes. I thought the same thing when I brought home a new 8-track by Nazareth, but my hopes were dashed when mom came down to the basement as my bandmates and I were listening to the title track – Hair of the Dog. I had not heard this song; I had bought the tape for another song that was getting radio airtime – Love Hurts, which I wanted to learn on guitar and play with the band. As my bad luck would have it, though, Mama was coming down the stairs to do a load of laundry just as we were listening to Nazareth belt out over and over again, now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch. Nothing good was coming out of that Nazareth.
Compared with the lyrical language regularly coming over the airwaves these days, Nazareth seems pretty tame; I’d be hard-pressed to convince the middle school hip hop generation practicing covers in basements today just how jolting Hair of the Dog was back in the day. It makes me wonder about the middle school generation back in King David’s day, and whether they shocked their parents by bringing home the latest Psalm they heard over their airwaves. We are hard pressed to realize it today, given how we approach the Psaltry much in the same way we approach the Broadman hymnal and Inspiration #9, as a source of pious devotion designed to undergird good morals. Read some of the lyrics, though, and the hard rock hip hop nature of the messages start to seep through our layers of cultural filtering. Here in today’s passage, David sings a la Gene Simmons, groaning about loins on fire, heart throbbing, strength failing, no soundness in his flesh. Like Nazareth, he speaks about a love that hurts and scars, wounds and marks, and hearts that better be tough enough to take a lot of pain. In this love affair with God, David has messed up, and has borne the fury of a divine lover scorned. God’s hand has come down hard on the poet; the heavenly archer has pierced David’s flesh with a volley of arrows. The holy force of love and compassion is not interested in being enmeshed in a co-dependent relationship, waiting around for David to hit bottom, enabling the addictions to power that plagued the king’s life. God is in effect “raising the bottom” for the poet. David’s experience of God’s wrath does not in the end distance him from the holy, though. The wounded poet ends his heavy metal musing with a desparate plea for God’s presence. It is for you, Lord, that I wait. . . Do not forsake me. He understands that the cure for morning after suffering at the hand of God is another shot of God. The hair of the God that bit him.
Our basement band, Deuce, never learned Love Hurts. I learned it many years later, when I arranged it as a mashup with Jesus Loves Me. It always amazes and amuses me when these things work – you really can sing the children’s hymn in the original melody across the arpeggio’d chord changes of the Nazareth song, and it creates an interesting harmonic convergence. Kim and I played it for our friends April Baker and Amy Mears when they were installed as co-pastors of Glendale Baptist in Nashville. They had asked us to play some instrumental music of our choice while people were coming to the table for communion. Swallowing the broken body and imbibing the shed blood of the Son of David seemed like the perfect setting for mashing up the Broadman hymnal with Nazareth. Jesus loves me, this I know, and at times it hurts. I don’t think many people picked up on it; we only got one curious look. It wasn’t withering.
What about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.