Tuesday, December 15, 2009

David Bazan's Breakup Album

With the threat of hell hanging over my head like a halo
I was made to believe in a couple of beautiful truths
That eventually had the effect of completely unraveling
The powerful curse put on me by you

When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail?
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell?

If my mother cries when I tell her what I discovered
Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
And if you bully her like you did me with fear of damnation
Then I hope she can see you for what you are

When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail?
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell?

What am I afraid of?
Who did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way?
If you knew what would happen
And you made us just the same
Then you my Lord can take the blame
-- David Bazan, "When We Fell"

David Bazan is breaking up with Jesus. The former CCM star and mouthpiece for Christian indie rockers Pedro the Lion is calling it quits. It's been nice. Maybe we can stay friends, J. But I can no longer call you Lord and Savior.

That's a message that is repeated over and over again on Bazan's latest album, Curse Your Branches. It's not the only message, though. There's also the one about what a screwup David Bazan is, stumbling home drunk, wrecking his marriage, letting down his little daughter. Curse Your Branches is many things: theological diatribe, combative response to family and "friends" who want to label him as lost, finger-pointing missive to all the naysayers and Pharisees. But mostly it's an apology for being a jerk. And because it's made by David Bazan, it's an eloquent apology, open-hearted, vulnerable, angry, and very sad, all set to the most varied and layered music the man has ever made. It's a hell of an album, and I mean that in both the best and worst senses of the term. It's a series of beautifully written, painful songs about a man dragging himself and those he loves through the beshitted back alleys of a desperate life. It's one of my favorite albums of the year, if "favorite" is still an appropriate term to use for something so voyeuristic and heart-rending.

Predictably and sadly, it's been met with confusion and judgment on the part of Bazan's former audience. I suppose that's what we do best; be confused and judge people. You'll have to pardon my cynicism. Apparently I'm not a fan of the former fans.

But the former fans -- at least some of them -- are fairly vocal. When Curse Your Branches was named by Christianity Today Magazine as one of the best albums of 2009, the backlash started immediately. How could a so-called Christian magazine call an album by a self-labeled agnostic as one of the best albums of the year? Isn't Dave Bazan a drunk? How can we reward people who sin when that music may be heard by our young, impressionable children?

I don't know David Bazan, although I've been around him. He shows up at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Music, listens, takes it all in, talks openly to anybody who wants to chat with him, and typically puts on one of the best shows of the weekend. He's a guy who has been wounded by the Church, and who has undoubtedly made some bad decisions along the way. Welcome to the human race, Dave. You are loved, dude. That's all I got. Sorry. Well, that and you made a hell of a painfully good album. I hope it gets better for you.

In the meantime, those of you who appreciate great songwriting, and who don't mind some theological wrestling, would do well to listen to Curse Your Branches. For what it's worth, I can't imagine not asking the questions David Bazan asks.


Joel said...

Bazan played a show in someone's living room in Clintonville on Friday night, and it was amazing. And you're right--he's always thoughtful, affable and humble. At all his shows he repeatedly asks, "Are there any questions at this point in the show?"

Angry CCM fans are blinded. Curse Your Branches is a terrific, gut-wrenching album, and good for CT for including it. It'll undoubtedly land in my top 10 of the year.

Thanks for the post.

Andrew said...

Well put, Andy. Thank you.

stephy said...

He's not quite broken up with him, he did that a few years ago, but newer developments have taken place...

Ashley said...

I'm going to check this out. Without writing a novel here, I'll say that the idea of God being accountable for the mess of our world is new to me. Of course I've thought of him being responsible for putting it all in motion, and that creating fallible creatures leaves the door open for sin . . . but for some reason I always laid accountability at our feet, not his. I guess it belongs to both of us, maybe in different ways.

Interestingly, this idea doesn't make me lose faith in God. It makes me feel like I can give up some of this burden of trying to be perfect because he knows I'm not going to meet the standard anyway.

Again something I knew already but this concept has added another layer of comprehension.

Eriol said...

It's kind of like a real break-up. One never sees it coming, but the other thinks it's inevitable and probably has been dropping hints all the while. After all he wrote "Secret of the Easy Yoke" a decade ago. If that wasn't enough there is the whole of album "Control", which is simply devastating

stephy said...

I think he's more of a Christian now than ever. He's wrestling with God and demanding something of him. I see him gaining a limp and a blessing.

Anonymous said...

This album crushed me. As a lover of candid and often depressing stories, I found myself strangely compelled to listen to this album over and over again. It was one of my faves this year as well.


thredd said...

all i know is: i've been breaking up with Jesus my whole life[well i dunno since i was aware? 1974?75?].
the more i break up with Jesus the closer and more real the personal relationship becomes.even if for a time i need that vernacular. unfortunately:
when one chooses to have a breakup in the limelight/ in / and under a "christian" platform/ which is by now getting silly: there will be red-tape.
and also: i dont know who ever thought of pedro the lion as a "mouth piece". he was always a "sad angst ridden "etc good musician who had mood swings. / or lets say "showed them when others didnt. people like to put people on pedastools and then people , once upon that pedastool: find it very hard to get off. and then throw a journey of a feelings and God and life and making a living into that mix and expectations? yah : that is called i want to break up with everything: and i am not even touching the past.i should know: i didnt really break up with jesus but i thought "timetraveling was a better option" and gave up on all productivity" just so i wouldnt curse the branches. it would have been better to just get mad. and let toxicity out. God is different with all of us: how He works with us. xo.eternal. i do get jealous tho: when i feel like i ddint give up on Jesus, and ijust keep getting reduced... tho. but that is my problem.