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Christina Aguilera and Bruce Springsteen – Postmodern Pioneers

March 14, 2007

Earlier in this blog I posted a review of Bruce Springsteen‘s album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition). I love this album.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of tunes from Christina Aguilera‘s new album Back to Basics. I don’t have the album so I can’t give it a proper review. I can only comment on the tunes I’ve heard.

For a few years now I’ve been a big fan of Leonard Sweet‘s book SoulTsunami. Sweet’s writing is not for everyone, and some find his wild, rambling style frustrating and difficult to read. Having Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, I love it. In the book he comments that the postmodern 21st Century church has to move forward and backward at the same time. I dig the embrace of paradox. I think he’s onto something. We can move forward into the future by digging deeply into our past, to forgotten traditions and ancient practices. This certainly speaks to my own experience, as a practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina helped me to move forward and make a genuine leap of faith.

So what does this have to do with music? Everything. Christina has a huge hit right now with the song Candyman, which takes the basic sound of the Andrews Sisters (musically it really is almost Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B) with updated percussion and playfully sexy lyrics. On a side note, her sexual playfulness is directed at a single partner – her husband – and reflects a healthy kind of sexuality, the kind the church ought to embrace. (What if the church spent as much energy embracing healthy sexuality as it does condemning? But I digress….) As a result, her music sounds fresh, new and exciting.

And let me say that I’m the LAST person I ever thought would be a fan of Christina Aguilera or any of the “teen pop” sensations of the last decade. I’ve always believed she has an incredible voice while lacking artistic vision. But it appears to me that she is emerging as a real artist, and I respect what she’s doing. I actually really like some of what I’ve heard from the new discs.

Springsteen does the same thing on Seeger, especially on the version of How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live? He takes an ancient folk song and places it in a new context, rewriting some of the lyrics to express the plight of those left behind by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Both artists have recontextualized old sounds and old songs, making them speak to people here and now. Neither work sounds like an artifact on display in a museum. Old sounds are brought to life (is it okay if I say resurrected?) for new ears and new minds. It is an amazing feat. It is the height of what’s great about our postmodern context, and there is a lot we can learn from it.

As a musician, I often wonder what postmodern blues might be like; and I don’t mean Albert King with a drum machine or an emo Robert Johnson. When I think postmodern blues, I think of Daniel Lanois’ music from the soundtrack of Sling Blade, which sounds both ancient and modern; a sonic portrait of the old South that is impossibly new and fresh.

This is the same challenge I face as a pastor; ancient religion, ancient practices and rituals integrated with new people, new contexts in a new millennium. Dig the paradox. Embrace the past, pay homage to the ancient traditions, bringing it to life in the new world.

Not easy. Real art never is.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 11, 2010 3:56 am

    Good news about Christina Aguilera’s world tour coming over here to England. I hope Leona Lewis is going to perform with christina in the shows over here.

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