Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Depeche Mode - "Personal Jesus"
from Violator (1990)


I was working in college radio when a 12" vinyl single came in with a blank white label and a white sleeve and no other markings. The song was a sparse arrangement of acoustic guitar and voice singing "Personal Jesus." The rumor was that it was Depeche Mode, but we waited for confirmation along with the fully produced single that followed.

What is it about this song about a "personal Jesus" that would draw both Johnny Cash and Marlyn Manson to cover it.

Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares

Your own personal jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone whos there

Feeling unknown
And youre all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone

Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know Im a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith

The line "reach out and touch faith" makes me think of Davinci's Sistine ceiling where Adam's hand is outstretched - straining to touch that of God.

What does "personal Jesus" mean?

First, certainly the good Christian answer is "a personal relationship with Christ." But in the context of the song is it?

Second, one could say that in this era of personalization of everything (which was beginning when this song came out in 1990) we as global citizens of this day long to have religion personalized as well. We want our own "personal Jesus" customized to our own needs and preconceived notions. In other words, we don't want a Jesus who is going to tell us what to do.

The third reason I'll throw out would be that "personal Jesus" in this song represents whatever it is that we put faith in. Possibly also worship. Possibly a person - an idol, a lover, a friend. The kind of person who rescues you when you are downtrodden; lends their ear; comforts you.

This seems most plausible when one examines the text.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

XTC: Dear God (Official Video)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

XTC - "Dear God"
found on Skylarking (1986)


When XTC released "Dear God" in 1986 it wrankled more than a few feathers. I remember the cassette version I had of Skylarking did not have the song on it, however the CD version, which I picked up later on did have it. It's an interesting word play. The song is written to God, and yet the person writing is skeptical about God's existence. Here are the full lyrics for review:

Dear God,
Hope you got the letter, and I pray you can make it better down here.
I dont mean a big reduction in the price of beer,
But all the people that you made in your image,
See them starving on their feet,cause they dont get enough to eat from God,
I cant believe in you.

Dear God,
Sorry to disturb you, but I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears,
And all the people that you made in your image,
See them fighting in the street, cause they cant make opinions meet, about God.
I cant believe in you.

Did you make disease? ... And the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind? ... After we made you? And the devil too?!

Dear God,
Dont know if you noticed, but your name is on a lot of quotes in this book.
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is true. Well I know it aint and so do you...dear God.
I cant believe in...I dont believe in...

I wont believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners, no devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You're always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found.
And its the same the whole world round.
The hurt I see helps to compound.
That the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Is just somebody's unholy hoax.
And if you're up there you'll perceive
that my hearts here upon my sleeve.
If theres one thing I dont believe in...its you.

Dear God.

While some would label these lyrics blasphemous, I think the concerns it addresses of abandonment, skepticism and a cynical approach to God, Christianity and religion in general is worth taking note of. Ironically, the tone of this song in and of itself is remniscent of Psalm 74, which states:

O God,
Why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation.

And later...

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forver?
Why do you hold back your hand?


Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame?
Le the poor and needy praise your name.
Rise up, O God, plead your cause.

The writer of the Psalms is basically saying:

"Dear God,
Have you forgotten about us humans.
Why do you allow all this bad stuff to take place?
Aren't you aware of what's going on down here?
Your enemies are cursing you and your people?
And we too are beginning to doubt, as we become more downtrodden."

Measuring the Psalm next to the song there are many similarities. The questioning of God's existence isn't something new. It's something we all seek an answer to. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding have written other songs questioning God's existence. The irony in this song, of course, is that they are addressing God and doubting his existence at the same time.