‘Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.’ – U2 lead singer Bono, from the 1988 album Rattle and Hum, introducing the song Helter Skelter
I’ve always loved that line – the turn of phrase is cool, for starters. And I can’t help but admire the (possibly tongue-in-cheek) cocky presumptuousness through which Bono deems himself worthy of repatriating something – anything – on behalf of rock’s eternal übergroup.
It’s a spirit I think we Christians would do well to emulate on behalf of our God.
Presumptuous? Maybe. But perhaps that’s just what God wants for and from us.
As Annie Johnston Flint’s famous poem reminds us, ‘Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today.’ It’s up to us – not the nebulous ‘society’ us, the actual ‘you-and-me’ us – to do the work God would do if He still had a physical body. Therefore, we should feel both empowered and obligated to step out in faith and act with Bonostic boldness.
I think God wants this from me, and from U2. (Boo!) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Taking Bono’s ‘stealing it back’ idea and running with it, I also love the idea of taking something that’s viewed as secular or even unGodly, and repatriating it for its rightful purpose. I say ‘rightful’ because if God created the entire universe, everything in it is Godly at its core – regardless of how it may have been perverted, distorted or perhaps merely misunderstood by the World.
If all good things come from God, then virtually everything – and absolutely everyone – can be salvaged for God.
And that includes good, but seemingly godless, music.
This piece of arguably obvious wisdom wasn’t lost on Canadian Christian musician Matt Brouwer. He took a much-ignored Sheryl Crow B-side called I Shall Believe (from 1993’s Tuesday Night Music Club), tweaked a couple of lyrics and repatriated the track for Christ.
Crow wrote a sad song about an imperfect woman turning to her imperfect man for inevitably inadequate comfort during a rough time in their relationship. Brouwer’s version has the protagonist turning to God for redemption when he or she is down and out – and finding it, of course.
“Please say honestly you won’t give up on me, and I shall believe.” He won’t, and we can.
I’m not sure how Crow feels about this holy highjacking of her bittersweet ballad, but I think Jesus is pleased with the repatriation.
Another Christian artist who knows how to reclaim the sacred from the secular is Big Daddy Weave. These affable Alabamans have adopted an old R&B classic called Hold On, I’m Comin’ during a medley of sorts in some of their live shows.
The tune was originally written by Isaac (Shaft) Hayes and David Porter, and recorded by Sam & Dave. It was recorded in 2000 by Eric Clapton and B.B. King for their Riding with the King album (a fantastic record, by the way).
The song is normally a straightforward I’m-with-you anthem to a woman from her man, who’s been away from her for a while despite his best intentions – probably he’s a musician on tour or something. But BDW chooses the verses nimbly and repeats the chorus like a mantra, singing the song from Jesus’ perspective to remind us to hold on, because He’s coming back.
Whenever I hear the ditty now, I can’t help but associate it with our Saviour, and that transforms this somewhat pedantic, unimaginative throwaway blues tune (sez I) into something profound and meaningful. This means the worst track on Riding with the King is now one of my favourites.
Meanwhile, it’s in that same spirit of repatriation that I can now listen to the song that introduced me to B.B. King with new ears.
The song is called When Love Comes to Town, and it’s a duet with U2 that appeared on the Rattle and Hum record (along with Helter Skelter).
I’ve listened to, played and sung this tune hundreds of times in the 22 years since it was released as a single, but I always viewed its lyrics as a faux-deep collection of nifty imagery, designed chiefly to provide the right cadence for the melody to interact with the chord progression.
But not long ago, I started humming it for no particular reason, and realized that the song is peppered with biblical references (Jonah, Samson). But far more importantly, the whole track is written around theme of Christ’s redeeming love. Check it out here:
The biblicality of the song is unmistakable in the final verse, of course. But I’d previously chalked that up to a secular rock-and-roll misappropriation of an event that’s so pervasive in Western culture that it could be viewed as no longer the exclusive domain of Christendom.
I was there when they crucified my Lord;
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side,
but I’ve seen love conquer the Great Divide
Translation: We’re all guilty of the crucifixion of our Lord, but God’s love has repatriated that unimaginably heinous act, and once and for all conquered the Great Divide between God and humanity.
Love has come to town, and I’m gonna catch that train.
Peace be with you.