Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
When it comes to wanting what’s real,
There’s no such thing as greed.
So sings Karin Bergquist in the first track of Over the Rhine’s 2007 CD, The Trumpet Child. She sings it in a voice so sultry it makes me blush a little just listening to her.
The Trumpet Child is about desire, about longing. The title track is about the Second Coming, that event for which the whole creation waits with longing and desire. I’m trying to resist the temptation to quote the lyrics to the whole song here, but I hope you’ll at least indulge me in a long quotation:
The Trumpet Child will banquet here
Until the lost are truly found…
The rich forget about their gold,
The meek and mild are strangely bold.
A lion lies beside a lamb
And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand.
The Trumpet Child will lift a glass,
His Bride now leaning in at last.
His final aim–to fill with joy
The earth that man all but destroyed.
That last, Chestertonian idea–that joy rather than judgment is the ultimate aim of Judgment Day–helped me make sense of the whole album. The rest of the songs on the CD concern themselves with desires and longings that are very much of this world rather than the next. The most persistent theme is sexual desire, usually unrequited.
The desire for joy and the desire for pleasure aren’t the same thing; Bergquist and her husband Linford Detweiler (they wrote all the songs on the album) never conflate the two. But they do acknowledge that there is a place where genuine joy and earthly pleasure overlap. In groping around for that place, they’re willing to get it wrong; instead of saying, “Here’s what earthly desire ought to be like,” they seem to be saying, “Here’s what earthly desire is like…now what does that tell us about our truest desires?”
When it comes to wanting what’s real, there’s no such thing as greed. But the truth is, we want a lot that isn’t real, and Detweiler and Bergquist are willing to wrestle around with that too. So in the song “Trouble,” we get the lyric,
If you came to make trouble,
Make me a double, Honey,
I think it’s good.
Or in “Who’m I Kidding but Me,”
You smell like sweet magnolias
And Pentecostal residue
I’d like to get to know ya
And shake the holy fire right out of you,
But oh, who’m I kiddin’ but me.
But then there’s “Let’s Spend the Day in Bed,” a sweet, quiet song about–well, staying in bed all day. It’s a picture of marital bliss that is more than a metaphor for the abundant life. The point, it seems to me, is that this is the abundant life that Jesus promised–or, rather, a little sliver of it. Obviously there’s more to the abundant life than earthly happiness. But where and how and why they’re connected–those are questions worth exploring.
In Detweiler’s lyrics, the trumpet that will blow on the last day
Is being fashioned out of fire.
The mouthpiece is a glowing coal,
The bell a burst of wild desire.
I love that image. We’re each of us a swirl of desires, some noble, some petty, some seedy. This CD explores many of those desires, including the seedy. But poised above them all is that fiery trumpet. And when it blows, we won’t be relieved of desire, but swept up in a greater, wilder desire. The glowing coal will burn away the false desires and leave the true, and the Trumpet Child will fill the universe with the joy that was the point all along.
p.s. It occurs to me that this isn’t really a music review. I guess it’s a poetry review. I’ll rely on the Rabbit Room’s more musically sophisticated readers and contributors to address the music itself, which is pretty fabulous.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.