EPISODE 291: Indiana Wants Me

The secret that explains life — I say “secret” because it’s an open but denied truth, known most directly in popular music but suppressed in most “narratives” and conceptual systems — is the aspiration for a connection of love with another human being.

This aspiration transcends politics and affinities, affiliations and most “ultimate concerns”, and almost all situational circumstances and historical contexts. The aspiration, whether lost, unrealized, or fulfilled, is the first thing you think about when you are born; and the last thing you think about when you die. It is the universal instantiation, in “real” time, of the urge to connect. I believe it is the mainspring of almost all our personal histories.

My cast unwraps the theme in a 1970 “One Hit Wonder”, and also in a 1954 English movie about a bomber pilot in Burma during World War Two. It then switches to Smokey Robinson. But… “la plus ca change…”

Think with me about the mainspring of your decisions, from age six to age 60, and ask yourself whether or not it’s true — that the aspiration for belovedness is the main thing you have contributed to your journey. Your answer to the question should be sufficient to concentrate your mind at Christmas.

Podcast 291 is dedicated to John Glover.

EPISODE 292: Down Down

Sometimes I feel like… a motherless child.

No, really: Sometimes I feel like I’ve been looking in almost all the wrong places for confirmations and traces of my Ur-existential Christian faith.

One’s been “trolling” almost one’s whole life through Truffaut and Dinesen and Kafka and Isherwood and Seneca and H.G. Wells and Stephen King and Val Lewton and Rod Serling and and John Galsworthy and, golly, even Michael Reeves — panning for Christian gold!

What I mean is, one can make a lifetime of gathering Christian-sounding _crumbs_ from a master’s table, i.e., the above artists and philosophers, while never seeing that the whole loaf is actually right in front of you.

I’m thinking of The Chain (1949) by Paul Wellman or I’d Climb the Highest Mountain with Susan Hayward (1951) or George Eliot’s first novella “Janet’s Repentance” or Passing of the Third Floor Back by Jerome K. Jerome.

What?!?

Well, it turns out there are some conscious Christian masterpieces out there, which were very successful in their day but have been almost completely smothered, in the reception, by This World. I mean, who has ever heard of The Chain by Paul Wellman? Yet it is simply the most touching story of a young Episcopal minister in Jericho, Kansas, who preaches and acts out Grace in a stratified and complacent city with great sacrifice yet great success. The Chain is a must read! Yet it’s been almost completely buried, as have been many other works like it, by “the World, the Flesh and the Devil”.

Hope this cast gives you some new reading, and some fresh heart!

Podcast 292 is dedicated to David Browder.

EPISODE 293: Disco Inferno

In the late 1970s The Trammps conceived a brilliant Disco Inferno, in which something would be burned down. Whether they meant the hot performance of a disco dance, or whether the torching of something big and malignant, it probably makes no difference. Something’s gotta go, even if it’s just lameness and dullness on the “disco round” (Alicia Bridges).

This cast contrasts the passing nature of social and political anger and social/political circumstances with the things that endure. I take the songs of The Carpenters as case in point! “Close to You” endures, while I can hardly remember the actual convulsions that were taking place on campus — almost everywhere — when we first heard it. “Close to You” doesn’t bring to mind, at least for me, Watergate or “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming”; but rather, cruising around Boston with my future wife (of now 46 years) or getting her to drive me to see Night of the Living Dead. I’ve basically forgotten what was happening in the big world then, tho’ have not for a second forgotten what was happening inside me.

That is the lesson of this podcast, and we end with an excerpt from the near-sublime Carpenters track, “Love Is Surrender”. LUV U.

EPISODE 294: World Contact Day

One of the great things about UFOs and alien contact is that it unnerves and demoralizes the kind of thinking that qualifies everyone in terms of “identities” or predicates.

The metaphor of alien-contact movies, from Starship Invasions (1977) to the original Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to Cloverfield (2008), is that of our one planet, our one earth, being instantly united in the face of an extra-terrestrial presence. As ‘Fox Mulder’ announced in a late episode of The X-Files, in the face of a real alien incursion, “All bets are off!”. In other words, the alien-contact metaphor — or rather, in my case, at least, convinced reality — relativizes every single human group-characteristic. Face to face with a truly other/Other, all persons on our planet become one — instantly. St. Paul says this perfectly in Galatians 3:28.

The opening music is an excerpt from The Carpenters’ immortal and unsurpassable version of “Calling Occupants of Inter-Planetary Craft”. That track bursts the confines of the late 1970s and will never die. The closing track is a song of conversion, by Robert Wyatt. Note that Jesus Christ gets a solid mention.

Podcast 294 is dedicated to Charles Gaston.

EPISODE 295: Lobo in Taiwan

Just as alien invasion movies break down the “dividing walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), almost invariably uniting the human race/s against the common enemy, so do four facts:

  1. Lobo is big in Taiwan!
  2. Tracy Hyde is still big in Japan!
  3. Karen Carpenter is HUGE in The Philippines!!
  4. Jacques Demy spent a lot of time, near the end of his run, making a Japanese movie about an anime heroine known as ‘Lady Oscar’.

Popularity in the above cases apparently has little connection with ethnicity. (Remember Cheap Trick, by the way, if you need more proof.)

Each of the popular artists featured in this cast tapped into something bigger than Florida (Lobo), bigger than Britain (Tracy Hyde), bigger than California (Karen C.), and bigger than Nantes (Jacques Demy).

What did they tap into?

Well, I try to answer that. And the answer has to do with human nature in its evenly distributed hunger for accompaniment, belovedness, and appreciation. Hope you like this.

EPISODE 296: Pre-Code

Some startling new material has come down the pipeline this week, and I’m utterly bound to share it with you. Turns out that all sorts of explicitly Christian Hollywood movies have been hidden from view almost since they were made. It’s almost as if a ‘code’ came into force, unspoken but more unwavering than the now notorious Hays Code of the 1930s, which banned directly Christian works of popular art from popular view.

What am I talking about?

Well, three remarkable movies that if you’ve ever heard of even one of them I’ll give you the Dean’s Prize from days long ago at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham.

Seriously, have you ever heard of or seen Journey into Light (1951) with Sterling Hayden, Viveca Lindfors and Thomas MItchell? What about The First Legion (also 1951) with Charles Boyer and Barbara Rush? And what about When in Rome (1953) with Van Johnson and Paul Douglas? And I’m not even going to mention Battle Hymn (1957), with Rock Hudson, or The Left Hand of God (1955) with Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney.

Go on the internet and look up the first three. Each of them can be found and seen. I think you are in for a surprise. These films are all pure Christianity, pure Gospel, pure Grace. Moreover, they were all top “studio productions” with A-list stars and creators.

Mary and I are in shock, having seen each one recently. And we’re mostly in shock because they have been completely unknown to us — no DVDs, no streaming (except The Left Hand of God); and in the case of the first three, not a mention anywhere.

I am saying they are all “pre-code’, because they were banished from sight once explicit Christianity became almost invisible in “mainstream” popular art.

Where have I been?

I mean, Knife in the Water is great. Jules and Jim is great. But still!