GO TO MORE GIGS PEOPLE! (when the corona virus lockdown is over). Then you can say ‘I was there’.
This concert is at the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti also known as the River Plate stadium in Buenos Aries, Argentina, recorded in December 2009. Capacity is about 70,000 people and it looks full to me. The concert series was recorded in HD as ‘Live at River Plate’ and was the last to feature rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, and bassist Cliff Williams.
I had always assumed this song, originally released in 1979, was an invitation to accept that we are all so bad that we are going to hell (even though we don’t really believe in it), so we might as well go wild and enjoy the party while it lasts. However, according to the normally unimpeachable Wikipedia, it was inspired by the arduous nature of touring constantly and life on the road.
Here’s my take on it now, inspired by this religious icon. It’s a standard image called Anastasia – Greek for ‘resurrection’ and it shows Jesus breaking down the gates of hell and lifting people up from death and slavery. As a Christian, I want to join in with the mission of Jesus to set people free, so I’m on the Highway to Hell with him; I hope you are too!
There’s no place you can go to escape God, no place where you can’t be reached, as Psalm 139 puts it :
Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
Lead singer, Amy Lee, wrote this about the man who would become her husband. When she met him her life was a mess and she says that he looked into her eyes and asked if she was happy. “I felt like he could just see straight into my soul.” The co-writer of the song said it was about
“discovering something or someone that awakens a feeling inside them that they’ve never had before. You discover there is a world that is bigger than just your safe bubble.”
The song hardly needs any comment and seems to resonate with the cry of humanity, “save me from the nothing I’ve become”. To me the song is a cry from the heart, a longing to be known, to be really seen. It’s the longing to come alive.
And the story reminded me of a woman Jesus met. He saw through her words and how things appeared externally. He offered her life. She described him as someone who “told me everything I have ever done”, maybe she felt like Amy Lee, “he could see straight into my soul.”
For a fairly introspective 17 year old the music of Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) drew me with a fascination bordering on obsession; I can still remember sitting alone in my bedroom listening to ‘Bird on a Wire’ on repeat. The phase soon passed, and I only recently came to appreciate the depths of this song ‘Anthem’, from Cohen’s 1992 album ‘The Future’.
‘The Future’ contains references to traumatic historical events, including Hiroshima and the Second World War. The massacre of students in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall both happened in 1989; it was a time of massive upheaval and uncertainty in the world.
Listening again in late 2019 you have to ask, has much has changed? Just thinking about our own country (quite apart from the rest of the world!) Britain is facing a bewildering parliamentary election, Brexit is unresolved, the country has more Foodbanks than McDonalds….. there surely still is ‘a crack, a crack, in everything’, but Cohen leaves us with a note of hope, ‘that’s how the light gets in’. We need the light, in our national and our personal lives, as never before.
Currently it is Advent, traditionally the time for preparing for the coming of Christ. For me this song provides a kind of transcendence, bringing hope into the apparent hopelessness of our world. The parallels are obvious I hope.