One of the elements of punk rock that has always intrigued me is the deep-seated, almost innate sense that something is very, very wrong with the world as it is. On Friday night, my band was privileged to play with a fellow who embodies this attribute as well as anyone I’ve seen.
He plays under the name Homeless Gospel Choir, although he is just one guy. I had pretty much given up on the idea of a one-man punk band after trying to pull it off myself for a couple years with very little success. But the Homeless Gospel Choir succeeds where I failed. He is simultaneously abrasive, funny, and catchy — three attributes that describe a lot of the best punk rock groups out there (think NOFX).
My church recently sponsored a discussion on the philosophy of rock ‘n roll. The main speaker tried to debunk the notion that a “Dionysian” theme pervades rock ‘n roll (i.e. a focus on sex and drugs). Instead, he claimed that the dominant theme in rock ‘n roll was the tension between good and evil; God and the Devil. He pointed to the earliest rockers of the southern United States to support this thesis, but I found myself thinking of the entirety of the punk rock genre. There is little to no focus on sex or drugs in punk rock lyrics. Instead, the focus tends to be on calling out injustice and the rejection of mainstream ideas about happiness/success.
Almost every Homeless Gospel Choir song embodies this tension, simultaneously filled with anger toward establishment ideals, yet with a lingering interest in the message of Jesus, who existed well outside of the mainstream, of course. Take these lines for example: “Sometimes I wanna build a pipe bomb, and blow up a Christian family bookstore. Other times I wish that I had half the courage, to learn to love my enemies more.”
This simultaneous disdain for ‘Christians’ and the fascination with the person of Jesus is intriguing. What lies at the root of this disconnect between an interest Christ and a disdain for his followers? My suspicion is that Jesus isn’t the one with the problem.
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