My friend and author Dave Hopwood has a new book out, here are some excerpts on his new book – check it out. Follow his blog here: http://www.davehopwood.blogspot.com
Over the years a lot of teenagers have made compilation CD’s.
It used to be mix tapes, now its playlists I guess. But the scenario is the same, you fancy someone, you want to impress them and give them something at the same time, so you throw together 31 songs you love and attempt to make them love them too.
Well, this is a kind of literary equivalent.
Of Biblical songs.
When I first picked up Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs I almost didn’t buy it. I was basically put off by the fact that I only knew two of the 31, Reasons to be Cheerful and Thunder Road. (Sorry Nick, I’m a musical philistine and you could probably write a haunting sequel about the appalling albums in my CD collection.) However Nick won me over, in fact wins me over, every time I pick up and re-read this delicious book. He has made me buy some of the songs he describes in it, it’s that powerful. I may not have heard many of the songs he describes, but he makes me wish I had, and he makes me wish I loved them in the way he does.
Can I make you love the psalms, and lots of other bits of the Bible? I doubt it. The Bible’s a lot harder to get into than a three-minute pop song. But little bite-size chunks can set your day on fire, and maybe one or two of them will stay forever and become your raison d’être. As the story of Ezekiel cooking with cow dung and Jeremiah burying his underpants have become with me. I like to think I’m a different person because I read those stories and saw myself in them.
So I hope that you will find yourself in some of these writings, in the psalms and the songs and the stories that go with them. The Bible could be thought of as a great album – a triple album I guess, or maybe even an entire back catalogue, certainly a huge collection of songs that take you on the epic journey of your life. Through anger, pleasure, hatred, war, doubt, confusion, laughter, parties, practical joking, loneliness, friendship, comfort, hope and wrestling. May you find one or two of the steps for your journey in the land of these 31 psalms.
I have also attributed a pop song to each chapter and I’ve tried my best to pick songs which I think give another angle on the psalm, but in the case of the book title I’ve failed miserably. Rebel Yell is little more than a raucous love song, the cry of a girl who wants more, more, more from Billy Idol. (Formerly of Generation X if you know your punk bands.) But the song title just leapt out at me as perfect for a Biblical book that is full of angst, questions, honesty and truth.
The psalms aren’t all protest songs, but many are, and they all crave for the justice of God to dominate this world. At a stretch you could say that the more you get to know God, the more you crave of him in your life. It’s tenuous though I’ll admit. I’ll try and do better for the rest of the book.
‘In the midnight hour, she cries more, more, more.
With a rebel yell, more, more, more.’
Top 4 other possible titles for this book:
4. Reasons to Be Cheerful [Ian Dury and the Blockheads] – too much of an exaggeration. Two thirds of the psalms actually feature complaint and anguish. Plus there’s absolutely no mention whatsoever of Indiana Jones, Alan Partridge, Guinness or Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy. So not enough reasons to be cheerful at all.
3. I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing [The New Seekers] – too cheesy. Way, way, way too cheesy. So cheesy it’s off the cheese scale by a cheesy mile.
2. Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll [Ian Dury, again] – too untrue. The psalms may well have been done in the style of Elvis, but there’s barely any sex (though I intend to find some) and certainly no class A substances.
1. Why, Why, Why Delilah? [Tom Jones] – too weird. It’s a great song but it’s the wrong book. Delilah’s that hair cutting-dame who knocked about with Samson and gave him a number one cut while he was sleeping. Not a good idea. Never cut anyone’s hair while they are asleep. Or bleach it either. Nowadays Samson would have sued.
Track 23: Psalm 44 – Song for Whoever [The Beautiful South]
11 You have treated us like sheep waiting to be slaughtered;
you have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold us – your precious people—for a pittance.
You valued us at nothing at all.
13 You have caused all our neighbors to mock us.
We are an object of scorn and derision to the nations around us.
14 You have made us the butt of their jokes;
we are scorned by the whole world.
The Beautiful South was a very rare pop group indeed – sugar sweet tunes and bitterly ironic lyrics. They sang with dark humour about the trials of life. Their big number one song I Need A Little Time was all about a guy using that phrase as an excuse to take a break from one girl so he could go running around with all the others.
Their song Manchester celebrates that city with this wry chorus:
‘As you dry your clothes once again upon the radiator,
What makes Britain great makes Manchester yet greater.’
Their very name was ironic. They loved the glorious north, not the beautiful south. They were having a laugh. In a previous incarnation as the Housemartins they released an album entitled Hull 4 London 0. Get the message?
Irony is powerful yet subtle. Most people may miss the joke, while others might be deeply offended by it.
Jesus and the prophets made plenty of room for irony and satire. When Elijah had a showdown with a load of rogue prophets he taunted them with this, ‘Where’s your god then? Why isn’t he showing up for you? Maybe he’s having a bathroom break!’
When Jesus was asked whether to pay taxes to Caesar (a thinly veiled trap by his enemies) Jesus asked if anyone had a coin on them and he must have smiled ironically when the Pharisees pulled one out. Here were the ‘devout’ Pharisees carrying an image of a roman emperor in their pocket. Gotcha! Their law said they weren’t supposed to carry an image of anyone around with them. Ha!
John was using hyperbole when he claimed in his blog that all the books in the world couldn’t contain everything Jesus had done. Well of course they could. You might need a lot of books or a very big industrial-sized Kindle but you could manage it. He’s exaggerating to make a point about how incredible this Messiah is.
Song for Whoever talks of using people. Making a fast buck out of pretending to love others. Reminds me of that old saying, ‘God made things to be used and people to be loved, yet we often get it the other way round.’
I could, for the third time in this book, have drawn on psalm 139 – how we are uniquely made and valued by God. We are not pawns in a giant game of online chess. We are not just useful marketing toys, or money-making machines. Though you can be made to feel that way quite easily by individual people or huge multinational companies.
However, I came across this psalm – one off the album by the Sons of Korah. And these guys are not happy. They feel like they have been used. They’ve been told the old stories about the great times in the past when God came through, when the Red Sea scarpered and the mountains did a runner. God spoke and everyone sat up and took notice. But not now. Now they feel overlooked and dumped.
This could almost be the story of some of the 30 and 40-year-olds in the UK. I have in recent years met many parents and grandparents who have faithfully served God over the years, yet their children and grandchildren have not inherited the faith. They have been told the stories of old about the God who made everything and sets people free – but the kids don’t see it that way. They don’t get it. They’re like the Sons of Korah. Wondering where their God is, and why they feel adrift in the way they do. This postmodern generation has left many people stuck on the sidelines wondering.
The context here could well be people who are in a mess and they pray and don’t get the answers they want. Maybe Israel is surrounded by the bad guys and God won’t just turn up and nuke them and dash their children against the rocks. They pray and wait and watch the tumbleweed roll by. Not a lot of satire in this psalm just the raw guts of prayer spilled like angry vomit as they rant at the sky.
‘Where are you God? Why have you forsaken us?’
They feel like dumb animals hanging around waiting for the kill. Helpless. Lost. Not exactly about to break out with a chorus of ‘Our God is an awesome God.’ This is another psalm with the cat with the baseball bat scenario.
‘Wake up God! Get down here now! You’re late for the world!’
They thought they were special but now they feel overlooked. Left on the pile. They had been promised that God knew them by name. But something’s gone wrong. He seems to have forgotten.
It’s easy to want to jump to God’s defence here and explain why the people have landed up in this confused state. But that might just diffuse the power of this psalm. I know that Israel lost the plot many times, and I know that they thought they were doing what God wanted but had in fact misread the brief. They got caught up with being special rather than being servants. That could be what this is about. Maybe.
Whatever. This song is here in the Good Book for us. For those bad days we all have when life does not turn out the way we predicted or expected. And for those days when we feel used, lost or let down.
‘Oh Shirley, Oh Deborah, Oh Julie, Oh Jane.
I wrote so many songs about you I forget your name.
Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue.
You made me so much money, I wrote this song for you.’
Top 3 ways we get used:
3. As consumers – buy buy baby. You know it makes sense. It’s the best a man can get, and you’re worth it, cause it does exactly what it says on the tin.
2. As viewers – you need the news and you need it now. Keep watching – don’t change channel, don’t switch off, don’t stop till you get enough i.e. sometime never.
1. By companies who want your friends. I’ve just been generously offered extra internet storage space if I enrol you and you and you with them. And you. And you. And you over there. And you at the back. And you on the toilet. And if you enrol me with some other company you can probably get 20 tons of free cat food.
(Feel free to tell all your friends to buy my book.)