Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bono and Liszt, God’s inside-out men.

Some of you may be asking, ‘Who the heck is Liszt?’ Well dear friends, if you lived a few hundred years back and you asked that question, you might have been smacked or ignored.

The year was 1847; the instrument, the piano. The god who conquered the world with the piano was a man named Franz Liszt. Until Liszt stormed the world the piano had only been played solo along with other solo instruments on any given concert. Until Liszt everyone used and read their music in concerts. Even Mozart and Beethoven had used sketches to remind themselves of what and where to play. Until Liszt the violin ruled the world as the mighty thunderbolt of virtuosity. Liszt played the piano like a gladiator would ride a chariot. When Liszt came to town an entourage of adoring followers accompanied him. He was probably the world’s first fabulously rich musician. He traveled into town with several carriages dedicated to carrying his wardrobes, piano, roadies, stylists, and … well, ladies. Liszt was the first Rock Star.

When Liszt played the piano, ladies flung their jewels on the stage instead of bouquets. They shrieked in ecstasy and sometimes fainted. Those who remained mobile made a mad rush to the stage to gaze upon the features of the divine man. They fought over the green gloves he had purposely left on the piano. One lady fished out the stub of a cigar that Liszt had smoked. She carried it in her bosom to the day she died. Gross.

Liszt changed music forever. Every time you see a rock star, know that they are great, great, great grandchildren of the mighty Franz Liszt. One could compare his popularity to that of Bono. A more accurate comparison would be to compare Liszt to both Bono and the Pope. He was that famous and revered. The imagination of the average person in the 19th century was a more fertile soil for legend and myth to grow. So by the time Liszt made it to your town, the legend and fervor that preceded him was colossal.

There were other similarities that Bono and Liszt shared. Along with a huge sex appeal, they shared a devotion to Christ. Bono, like Liszt before him, shares a devotion to Catholicism. Liszt wore a Priest’s cassock the later half of his life and was never seen in public without it. After his run-in with fame, he spent a good ten years in a monastery. Liszt was instrumental in sharing the gospel with Wagner. It is even rumored and speculated that Wagner converted near the end. Of course this could be because Wagner wanted more of Liszt’s money, not just his daughter. Even if Wagner did not convert, who else could have shared the truth to him?

Sometimes I think we assume that because Artists are not working in the Church, singing ‘Christian Music’ or they are not using their artistic gifts in direct relation to the Church then they are not Christians. I am tired of these assumptions. I made one recently about Ben Folds. Shaun Groves pointed out that he was brought up in Church so all we really know is that we don’t know either way. He could be either. Of course Ben knows, but he doesn’t go around telling everyone that he is like he is the perfume lady at Dillard’s spraying perfume in everyone’s face whether they really want to smell it or not.

The fact that well known artists do not wear their Evangelism on their sleeve, makes some Christians mad. Most Christians didn’t know that Bono was a believer until this last year when an atheist journalist delved into Bono’s spirituality and asked him point blank. To which Bono replied, and I paraphrase and condense, “Not just yes, but hell yes.” He described why he is a Christian with more meaning and power, over the phone to this journalist, than I have ever heard in any venue or setting. Probably the only person that could have made sense of the Gospel to that man at that moment in that man's life and he didn't see it coming.

I think that sometimes people shouldn’t see us coming.

Last Christmas I stood huddled with my Baptist compadres in a homeless shelter to help the workers at Loaves and Fishes feed the poor. What I didn’t know was there was a priest, in plain clothes, sitting with the homeless guys at their table talking to them and eating. I didn’t see him there and I bet they didn’t know who he was at first either. They just thought he was one of them.

Sometimes God turns up in the most unlikely people- Liszt, Bono, and maybe even Ben Folds.

Sometimes Evangelism is an inside-out job

Just ask Niebuhr.


Stephen said...

The story I always think of when I hear about Liszt is that people said he played the piano "like he was demon possessed".

euphrony said...

You don't have to be a preacher to be a Christian. We are all called to proclaim the gospel, but that does not necessarily mean from the highest pulpit you get into. Yeah, I'll cut them some slack for not repenting the evils of rock and roll and converting to the pure, sweet sounds of CCM. (That was a little sarcasm at the end, if it doesn't translate in type.)

I have a lot more problems with those artists who are Christian but, unlike Bono, refuse to talk about it openly when asked. I have seen several artists over the years state plainly that they will not talk about their beliefs because it is distracting from their music (or some such argument). I have even seen a group recently sue their own record label for branding them with the stigma of "Christian Artist". Speculation that I have read (and not just in CCM mags) is that they do not want to be pigeon-holed, both for monetary and increased audience reasons. Bono has the advantage of being a well established super-star; he can say what he wants and people will still buy U2's music.

Back to my original statement: you don't have to be a preacher to be a Christian. This applies to the artist and engineer equally. However, when you are not open and honest about who you are, or when you are intentionally ambiguous, then you preach the gospel of a "good man" and not of the Christ. That may read as harsh, but I think it undeniable that we preach some message with our lives constantly. Let people know who it is you emulate.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that about Liszt! I LOVE his music, but man is it hard for a girl with not-so-large hands to play!! It's fun to try, though. I was able to perform "Un Sospiro" back in the day, and I still love to hear that piece. I have a much harder time with his rhapsodies, etc.

I agree that you shouldn't have to brand yourself as a "Christian" artist to be a Christian and an artist. I agree with euphrony, though, in that I think it's wrong to deny your faith when asked about it. You should never be ashamed of the gospel.

The part you wrote about the priest at Loaves and Fishes really touched me. It seems to me that the people serving the homeless are being like Martha, and the priest sitting with them is being like Mary. The homeless need people to feed them physically, but they also desperately need people who will meet them where they are and be Jesus to them.

Thanks for the great post!!

Seth Ward said...

I have mixed feelings about the Mutemath thing. No one likes stigmas. For instance,

In my humble experience with a certain minute amount of exposure, a mere fraction-of-a-fraction of Mutemath's, I have had people introduce my music as "Christian" to others and then they quickly qualify it by saying, "but its GOOD Christian music."

So what Christian music has become is synonymous with crap. Maybe not to you, or others who listen primarily to CCM's shining artistic stars like Sara Groves or her brother Shaun, but EVERYONE else who holds a casual association with CCM. The fact of the matter is that it might not matter as much to Shaun or Sara because most of their audience is Christian. Now it might flow over sometimes and people are pleasantly surprised, but more often than not people (non-believers) won't give them a chance because they are in the CCM bin down at Wal-mart.

Half of the output of Johny Cash was "Christian" but do people refer to him as a CCM artist? Crap no. What about Bob Dylan? Two FULL length Christian albums. Would I call him CCM? Double-crap no.

So what people are miffed when Mutemath says "hey don't label me as CCM dangit!" They are associating CCM with actually BEING a Christian. As if that industry somehow thinks it IS Christian. As if an industry could be baptised and saved. If it really wanted to be effective to an unbelieving world then it would shake the titles alltogether and jump in the flow where everyone else is. Like Johnny Cash, or Dylan, or Bono.

I am NOT suggesting that people STOP proclaiming, boldly, their faith in music. Good Lord. I am just saying that if someone doesn't want to be associated with a certain genre because of a negative stigma doesn't mean that they are denying the Christ.

more to say, test to give.

euphrony said...

I thought a lot about blogging extensively on the whole MuteMath thing. In the end, I did not and am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt in this whole process. There is a lot of stigma associated with anything artistic that gets labeled "Christian", be it in music or movie or painting or whatever. When you mention Christian music to the average Joe, they first think of having a message beaten into them, and then think either of twangy, drawled, huge vibrato, slurred notes southern-style gospel that is definitely not in style with the masses or hugely repetitive, smile plastered on your face worship music. It matters not if these are fair representations, it is what many people associate with CCM. So I do sympathize with those who try to transcend labeling.

Where the whole MuteMath thing gets me is how is this viewed by the general populace? Most people who hear about it read "MuteMath sues their own record label over being branded Christian", which gives the decided impression that they do not want to be known as Christians or that they are not Christians. The question was put to Evanescence when they broke out a few years ago, about their spirituality and if they were Christians; they responded hell-no, except more emphatically and at length. So, in people's minds, does MuteMath get grouped with Evanescence?

I'm not trying to harp on MuteMath, they are just a recent example. By all accounts, their new album is very good (#2 on Christianity Today's list for the year) and has strong Christian themes and messages. It's the messages that people receive that I ponder over.

Go easy on those poor students. Remember, you were once younger and apathetic about tests, right?

Anonymous said...

Cool post.

One tweak: Bono's not Catholic, and never has been, as far as I know.


Seth Ward said...

"So, in people's minds, does MuteMath get grouped with Evanescence?"

Good question, and I understand where you are coming from here. There is a line and when someone asks you, there should be no shame in telling what you are or are becoming more like rather.

However, there is shame at times on being lumped with a bunch of people that are cheezy, self-absorbed, rude-but-say-that-they-aren't, as well as suggesting that we assassinate dictators.

The title doesn't fit the meaning sometimes and it is the title that you find yourself avoiding.

Honestly, most of Mutemath's audience is still Christian and they vehemently defend Mutemath's decision to disassociate themselves with an industry synonymous with velveta. Almost every college-kid/Mutemath-fan I have encountered are Xians. It is probably proportional to Sufjan's audience.

euphrony said...

"However, there is shame at times on being lumped with a bunch of people that are cheezy, self-absorbed, rude-but-say-that-they-aren't, as well as suggesting that we assassinate dictators."

I guess what it boils down to is, it's really a shame that a good portion of the publicly "Christian" community is acting in a decidedly worldly manner. When certain evangelical leaders so disgrace the kingdom, it is understandable that others desire not to be associated with them by their target audience or peer circle.

Seth Ward said...

Dangit Brant.

I can't find my 'Conversations" book. Blast! I was going on what I read in the book. If my memory serves me, he told the journalist that his Mom was protestant and his Dad was Catholic. He grew up kind of both but really Catholic. He defended the Catholic Church to the guy, "don't be so hard on the old girl... the Catholic Church is like the Glam rock of Music (jokingly) Also, he attended Mass around Christmas. Stuff like that, I'll find the book sometime. I think my buddy ripped it off.

At the end of that chapter the journalist joked that he wasn't going to get anywhere talking to an Irish-Catholic knocking-on about God.

My one and only source. So you may be right.

Noted kind sir, noted.

Seth Ward said...

Euphrony, I think THAT is the real tragedy here. Sometimes you are afraid to say that you are Christian because you may be actually trying to do some good work somewhere in someone's life and by immediately identifying yourself with a stigma then you loose credibility. I that's why many are disassociating themselves with labels, denom's and stigmas, but not Jesus the Christ.

It is almost necessary most times to close our mouths sometimes and let the actions do the talking. After it's by our Love that we are known not our label. (sounded like a fortune cookie there, almost heard a gong in the distance when I wrote it)

I guess in the end I see integrity in both stances. I think it is admirable that someone striving for excellence chooses to NOT severe ties with CCM and then I understand why those who do, do.

I just said dudu.

It just depends on where you are and who your audience is.

Seth Ward said...

Susanne! For some reason I skipped your response. Got in a hurry. I played that piece too. I loved it. It was my first 'big' piece. I fell in love with his music after and couldn't play enough of it.

Seth Ward said...


from a Larry King interview:

KING: But you're a man of doubting faith, who is a Catholic, with the seer of your church.

BONO: I'm half Catholic and half -- I mean, I'm not doubting. I don't doubt God. I have firm faith absolutely in God. It's religion I'm doubting. I was very glad to be in his presence...

Anonymous said...

Bono was raised in his mother's Anglican church, and the band's chaplain Jack Heaslip is an evangelical Anglican priest. His formative faith experience was in a nondenominational charismatic fellowship. This does not stop him from claiming to be half-Catholic out of respect for his dad, but none of his actual faith formation has ever been in Roman Catholic contexts.

Oh, and Lizst is really cool!

Seth Ward said...

Nice move anon!

Thanks for clearing that up.

You sound familiar. Wer sind sie?


Liszt and Bono look like brothers. That's all I'm saying.