Listen to “Double Negative Theology” By Mark Lint.
Our Maimonides episode discusses the concept of “negative theology” whereby you’re both inaccurate and disrespectful if you say things like “God is great” or or “God is all-knowing,” because God is supposed to be beyond our conceptual schemes. However, you can say “God is not bad” and even “God is not not good” without violating this rule.
That idea inspired this passive-aggressive little song, which channels my mixed feelings about songs (like this and this and this) that seem to be making some theological point but which are really just dicking around. These are songs that, while they aren’t Christian rock or anything like that, likewise aren’t unambiguously anti-religious (unlike XTC’s breakout single). Unless I know that a singer is pretty religious, I’m always uncertain whether an artist is just having fun with our shared cultural heritage or whether it’s sincere (e.g. this or this. I’m pretty sure this one is sincere.). I think sometimes (as with Bob Mould) a religious upbringing has left this kind of imagery in one’s catalog of semi-conscious mental matter to deal with along with Star Wars or superheroes and maybe trauma. Many religious people err on the side of being offended by such songs.
Double negatives are of course grammatically and mathematically positive but emotionally still negative, as someone in a fit of anger that says “that is not not good!” is probably just repeating the negative as extra emphasis and not actually saying something positive. My song also features a token quadruple negative and a camouflaged triple negative, as well as one of those sentences designed to mislead (“Don’t think there’s a god…”) until you hear the rest of it (“…that would not not be strong…”), which it turns out doesn’t even end the sentence. Ultimately, the song has no message, except that a dreamy atmosphere and religious language are themselves evocative even in the absence of any message.
I was joined on this recording by Rei Tangko on violin, whom you all should recall from our ep 100 set, and then also by a guitarist in Holland named Peter Kiel, contributing his flawless arpeggiated tracks over the Internet on very very short notice. It’s a little funny that such a quick, snarky little song idea may have resulted in the most sonically beautiful thing I’ve been involved with.
As I was reading Ralph Waldo Emerson for ep. 102 a couple weeks ago, I was struck by how much of Emerson’s new agey imagery was reflected in the lyrics of Jon Anderson (of the prog-rock group Yes) and actually reached out to him through his publicist to try to get him on the podcast (this may happen at some point, but he was too busy to consider it this time around). Anyway, that prospect got me listening on that trip to a bunch of Jon’s solo material, and I read that for his most recent album, he put a notice on his website to get collaborators and then (I think) just recorded vocals over instrumentals that people sent in. So Peter had written and played for that album this really nice acoustic guitar piece called “Understanding Truth” (which you can and should listen to here). I was able to simply look him up and send him my part, and he sent me some ideas to consider almost immediately. Thanks, Internet!
Oh, I did have a mad vision of Jon himself coming in at the end of the song with a contrapuntal cameo vocal singing something like “well, of course there is; he’s amazing as you’re amazing as are we all” and sent another message to his publicist to ask about that, but received no reply. Ah, well. Maybe next time. And maybe Mick Jagger and David Bowie will come on the show together to discuss Baudrillard, and Peter Gabriel will bake me a cake. Optimism!