Spirit In The Sky

Evol Walks

When I die and I lay me to rest, I’m going to go to the place that’s best

What a great song! Originally written and released by Norman Greenbaum in 1969, this has become a rock standard, with other cover versions by Doctor and the Medics and Gareth Gates . Greenbaum (who was raised Jewish) apparently wrote the song in about fifteen minutes, blending some generic gospel sentiments from music he had heard on TV with wording that he had spotted on a greetings card about native American beliefs. Greenbaum had been a working musician in the folk style for years, playing with Dr. West’s Medicine Show & Junk Band, who released the novelty song ‘The Eggplant That Ate Chicago’. It looks fair to say that the religious message of the Spirit In The Sky did not draw on the composer’s deep personal convictions. And yet …

Something about it captured a popular sentiment – a lingering hope for life in the hereafter based on half-remembered Christian beliefs; Greenbaum says Spirit In The Sky is still one of the most requested songs for use at funerals. Now, over fifty years after the original release, the song is used as a clap along crowd pleaser as in this performance by Evol Walks.

There is a complicated interaction between the composer’s original, conscious intent and the influences received during the writing and created by the performance. Then, much later. the song is performed by someone else in a different situation and the song gains a new meaning for that time, place, performer and audience. When Greenbaum wrote the song in late 60’s America, there was ongoing racial tensions and other civil rights campaigns, the background nuclear terror of the Cold War, the triumph of the moon landing, the Woodstock festival and the grinding horror of the ongoing Vietnam war.

So maybe the song is a real prayer, if you make it a real prayer for you. I hope you do.

Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live for ever in your house, LORD. Psalm 23.

Are You Gonna Go My Way?

Lenny Kravitz

What I really wanna know is …

Here’s Lenny Kravitz Live in Hyde Park, 9th September 2018. Look at the size of the crowd. The landlord would definitely book you again if you brought that number of customers in to buy the beer! Anyway, the audience are loving it and singing along.

What a star! Lenny won the Grammy award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance four years in a row from 1999 to 2002. Early in his career he played support for greats like David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The Virgin record label president described him as ‘Prince meets John Lennon’.

Lenny identifies as a Christian according to Wikipedia, and there is definitely a religious message in this song. In a 2018 Guardian interview, he explains that it is about Jesus Christ. My reading of the lyrics is that they are sung actually in the persona of Jesus, who is making an appeal to us, the listeners, for a faith commitment. I wonder if the crowd singing along understood that or what it might cost?

Special bonus – here’s the official music video – 47 million views and counting. Love those dreads.

Lyrics here

Murder By Numbers

The Police

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart

The video here is of The Police performing at the Oakland Coliseum, California USA on 10th September 1983. This chilling song had been omitted from what was to be their last studio album, Synchronicity, apparently for reasons of space on the vinyl release and it became instead the B side of the hit 45rpm single ‘Every Breath You Take’.

It was recorded in one live take at the AIR studios owned by legendary Beatles producer George Martin on the island of Montserrat. According to lyric-writer Sting, “A few years later this volcano would destroy half of Montserrat, but on this day it was just bubbling quietly and throwing up a strong smell of sulfur. The words formed in my head and that pungent smell of sulfur continued to cling to the song: Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist, publicly cited it as an example of the devil’s work. He condemned it colorfully while entirely missing its irony and its satirical content. The devil indeed!” Sulphur has long been associated with the devil and demons in folklore, suggesting the smell emanating from the fiery pits of Hell. [thanks for the help, Songfacts].

I love the unusual jazz style chord progression – I’d like to play the song but I’m not sure about BbMaj#11, nor indeed F#7#9! The guitar has a lot of flange effect on it which creates a slightly disturbing sense that the pitch is never quite right.

Much more disturbing are the lyrics and the message of the song. To my reading it is a clear criticism of the UK government and the way in which it’s policy had caused distress and even death. In 1982 unemployment stood at over three million partly as a result of Thatcher’s de-industrialisation strategy with whole regions blighted by decline and poverty. I think we are still living with the consequences forty years later.

Today I read desperate news headlines: migrants in small boats who have drowned attempting to reach safety in England, starving babies in Afghanistan and thousands dying from Covid in poor countries where the vaccines have not been made available. It’s not inevitable, or just ‘how it is’. It is because powerful governments and leaders have decided to make it so. It’s murder by numbers.

But you can reach the top of your profession

If you become the leader of the land

For murder is the sport of the elected

And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand

Justice is a recurring theme in the Bible and I have selected only one passage to represent it all. The prophet is speaking to the whole nation and its leaders whose “hands are covered in blood” in the book of Isaiah chapter 1. God help us.