Sunday, April 12, 2009

Songcatching: Easter Thoughts

I don't celebrate Easter. My wife and I aren't churchgoers, and we don't have any family in town, so it's a quiet Sunday like most. In a few minutes I'll call my folks and cook up some turkey & chorizo picadillo, and later on I'll head out for the weekly D&D game.

But between baskets of candy and egg hunts on the news one can't help noticing it's Easter weekend, and at the gym this morning I got to thinking about two songs with Easter themes.

The first is Agalloch's "Kneel to the Cross," a cover of an anti-Christian screed by pagan neo-folkers Sol Invictus. I haven't much sympathy for the song's point of view: I'm no expert in Nietzsche, but I'm pretty sure this is what he smells like packed into a bong and passed around the dorm room. The one line that pricks up my ears is "It's love your neighbor and rattle your saber," which neatly sums up how I feel when a certain sort of believer offers fellowship with one hand while waving a hellfire brand with the other.

What keeps me coming back to the song is the chant at the beginning and end, "Summer is a-coming in, arise, arise." I have no idea how deep the fellows in Agalloch meant that allusion to be. Quite probably they go no further back than Wicker Man (spoiler alert -- 35 year old film or not it's worth seeing fresh). But beyond that stretches hundreds of years of folk song in British Isles and the Americas, both sacred and secular, Christian and pagan. It's both "Perspice Christicola" and "Sumer is Icumen In."

So while the branch may bitter the song has deep roots, whether its planters know or not. And for my part I am ready for summer to arise, to whistle up spring from deep roots and send it out to green the grass and bud the trees.

The other song could hardly be less like Agalloch's solemn anti-hymn, though it is irreverent in its own way. In addition to colored eggs and fluffy bunnies Easter weekend is the time for an annual viewing of The Ten Commandments in our household and millions of others in the US. Judging from the song "Charlton Heston" Cecil B DeMille's epic reached a few homes in Ireland and England as well.

I'd hardly knock The Ten Commandments. It's got drama, intrigue, vistas of sweeping grandeur, visions of ghostly green horror. I'm not unmoved by Yul Brynner's hard-hearted scheming and envy, nor by Charlton Heston's manly reverence and woolly white beard-wig. But mostly I like the outrageously vampy way Anne Baxter pants "Moses" whenever she and Charlton are alone. Consequently I don't have the patience for a full viewing, but I can always spare three and a half minutes for Stump's clever gloss on the movie, corny jokes and all: "Boils the size of 50p / Lights! Camel! Action! / Bushes that refuse to burn / See these sandals hardly worn / Raining blood and raining bread / The night we painted Egypt red."

May Easter and spring bring joy.

MP3: Agalloch, Kneel to the Cross (from the out of print EP Of Stone, Wind & Pillor. Agalloch's other records are available on compact disc and download)

MP3: Stump, Charlton Heston (Compact Disc - Download)

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