Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Cost of Religion

Eef Barzelay wrote "Jews for Jesus Blues" as the leader of Clem Snide, shortly before the alt-country band broke up in 2005 (they reformed in 2009).  As the Weather for "The Traveler," the 18th episode of Welcome to Night Vale, this song explores the negatives of being saved.  The country elements of the song (shuffle beat in the snare, slight twang to the voice, banjo) sets up the expectations for a typical country revival song.  But Eef's view of religion is more complex, as indicated by both his birth in Israel and the title of the song.  The narrator of the song was trying to fill the perceived emptiness of his life.  He did so by being reborn in Jesus.  But he regrets this action, and the reason for this regret is unclear.  The title might suggest that it is because he went against his cultural heritage of Judaism.  The third verse says "I don't wanna suffer and I don't wanna die / I want the clouds parted in endless, blue sky / But someone up there has a different plan / Now that I'm saved, I wish I was damned."  God has a different plan than his vision of eternal life with no suffering and strife.  He thought he would be free of his sins, but instead he feels guilty.  Is it the work that is demanded, that we all must love one another as we love ourselves?  This love requires effort, and perhaps suffering. 

Between the second and third verses, a very distorted electric guitar solo clashes with the country music tropes.  It is like a parody of a slide guitar solo.  Is this the feeling of a Jew stuck among Christians, not exactly fitting in?  There is also a Hammond organ sound in the background of the third verse and the coda, coming to the forefront as the singer stops abruptly.  It is rather disturbing, with very heavy tremolo and a kind of distortion at the very end.  Did he stop himself out of shame, or was he interrupted by death?  Either way, it is an upsetting moment.  Religion isn't easy.

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