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On Gospel Music August 5, 2010

Posted by Skippy in Humor, Music, Observations, Popular Culture.
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The other day, I was thinking about crap that I have to do. Being the procrastinator that I am, I said to myself, “Oh, this can wait till tomorrow.” And then, the old Winans song “Tomorrow” popped into my head.

Fig. 1: Do you love Jesus yet? Well?? DO YOU?!?

The more I thought about the lyrics, the more I realized that gospel music has some insane lyrics. I mean, the song starts off sweet enough, I guess. But then it goes into full-on passive aggressive threat mode. Give your life to Jesus…OR ELSE.

Gospel music functions on some shared assumptions—one of which being that the listener will know what “choosing the Lord” means. The other assumption is that the Christian God pretty much can choose to kill you at a whim. At the same time, another shared assumption is that “He” loves you!

The more I thought about the song “Tomorrow” (should’ve been called “And I Am Telling You: The Church Version”) and how creeptastic it is, I realized that pretty much all gospel music from about the late 70s onward can be categorized according to specific themes of varying creepiness/horror/morbid fascination:

Jesus Makes Me HAPPY!(Kinda Like Drugs, But With More Snare Drum!)

This song is the wheelhouse of people like Shirley Caesar or Vicky Winans. It’s usually about five minutes of foot-stomping, tambourine slangin’ happiness about how Jesus really makes you HAPPY. It demands the vocal talents of a person like Patti LaBelle or Shirley Caesar. If you can’t scream, you can’t do this kind of song. It doesn’t really have to make much sense, so long as you get the idea across that Jesus really, really makes you HAPPY. It’s the church equivalent of house music. Go to any bapticostal/Church of God Holiness Sanctified and Fire Baptized Apostolic Word of Sanctified Faith church and you will spend a good thirty minutes wondering if you walked into a church…or a gay club. The music is somewhat indistinguishable…probably because the choir director is also the DJ at the gay club. Just sayin’—think about it: how easy was it for DJs to take Shirley Caesar’s “Hold My Mule” and turn it into a gay anthem? VERY easy.

Give Your Life To Jesus…OR ELSE.

This is a Guilt Trip Par Excellence. This song is designed specifically to make you feel like a total and complete shit. Usually, the lyrics are outright accusatory. You (Sinner!) are bopping along, doing sinnery stuff like getting gay married, having babies out of wedlock and getting sloppy lacefront weaves. But woe be unto you! For Jesus—you know, the guy you were totally supposed to love—is gonna come back and kick! your! ass! (i.e., kill you…or a loved one) Now whattya have to say? Huh? Huh?! Now, while the lyrics may be aggressive and accusatory, gospel music producers know that this song doesn’t go over well if it has a snappy beat. No, this kind of song is decidedly downbeat. It’s slow, moody, and sung by a woman or a man with a deep alto or tenor. The choir comes in to reinforce the Guilt Trip with wonderful harmonies.

If the song has done its job and has indeed made you feel like a total and complete shit, you should be sobbing uncontrollably and running down to the altar of Mt. Pisgah First United Baptist Church of Salvation and Sanctification to give your life to Jesus.

Thanks, Jesus/Sucks To Be You
You’ll often hear this song during a “praise and worship” session at your local predominantly black megachurch. When paired with the Jesus Makes Me HAPPY song, one should not plan on seeing hearth and home again for quite a while, as the “praise and worship” session can, at times, overwhelm the rest of the proceedings.

This is usually also upbeat and bears many resemblances to the Jesus Makes Me HAPPY song. However, there’s one major difference: this song pretty much shits on everyone that Jesus didn’t make happy. It is kind of a “Neener, neener, sucks to be you!” song. I mean, you’re thanking Jesus for food and clothing and “being in your right mind”(even though one has to wonder what you were thinking wearing that outfit to church), but what about all the people who don’t have food or clothing or sanity?

Fig. 2: Sorry kid; Jesus loves you, but not enough to give you dinner.
This type of song reminds me of the people who drive cars they can barely afford yet have the temerity to put “Blessed” vanity plates on the car. It’s a damn car, not the lottery. Unless your particular car literally materialized out of thin air into your driveway and you never had a car note and don’t have to change the oil, you’re not any more “blessed” than anyone else who drives a car.

I Was An Axe Murderer…Until I Met Jesus
Usually paired with a Give Your Life To Jesus…OR ELSE song. This song is also like the Thanks, Jesus/Sucks To Be You Song, but is much more “revelatory.” In other words, the writer/singer uses worn out cliches to tell the audience that he/she used to be a Total Shit, but now Jesus forgives them for having been a Total Shit and now, when they act like a Total Shit, it’s okay, because Jesus loves them. This song has two functions:
1. To make the listener feel like a Total Shit.
2. To brag show the world how fucking wonderful they are how much they’ve changed.

To let the singer/songwriter tell it, they were the worst person on the planet next to Charles Manson. Of course, “bad” here is relative. Didn’t go to church regularly? Maybe you told a few lies here and there? Sex before marriage? Well, you suck—and will continue to suck until you invite Jesus into your blood pumping organ immediately!

Here’s the kicker: with just a few changes in words, almost any gospel song can become an R&B song. Both have a subject on whom the singer fixates; frankly, from most of the gospel lyrics I’ve ever heard, I want to ask the singer if Jesus hasn’t taken out a temporary restraining order against them. Either that, or Jesus gets off on the weird fixations of his followers—which, y’know, makes Jesus and the singer kinda creepy.

Fig. 3: Gospel music in a nutshell.

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