I might have called this the mystical collection, but mysticism has rarified connotations that don’t fit very well with my songs or my experience. But there’s plenty of mystery in my experience of God and the universe, and the songs in this collection range far and wide in that mystery — with irony always in the mix. After all, our experience of the divine always seems to arrive at some ironic distance from our expectations and agendas.
We begin with the cosmic — “Dark Matter/Dark Energy” (2019, from Moments of Truth), a playful mix of astrophysics and theology. Modern physics suggest that over 90% of the universe is made up of “dark” matter and energy, undetected by any existing instruments. Only this overwhelming preponderance of unseen matter and energy can account for the gravitational dynamics that hold galaxies together and make them spin. This undetected realm is where “we live and move and have our being,” to use the phrase of the ancient Stoic philosophers, which the apostle Paul borrowed when visiting Athens (Acts 17). While dark matter/energy exerts a gravitational force visible on the scale of galaxies, it’s influence extends down to smaller scales. This song suggests that it may be what Paul in Galatians 6 calls the fruit of the Spirit, drawing and holding humans together wherever we attune ourselves to it. This song is neither astrophysics nor metaphysics, but analogy. Musically, the song is inspired by “White Heat/White LIght” by the Velvet Underground (1968). But while theirs is an ode to amphetamine, mine aspires still higher.
“An Epiphany Waiting to Happen” (2011, from Terms and Conditions) took some inspiration from Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” (1965), then took a turn through the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” (1970), but then moved into territory all its own. It expressses God’s invitation to “turn round and see me,” which is always in a direction we weren’t looking, even if we were seeking. I think I’m channeling Waylon Jennings here. In addition, the Hound of Heaven offers a solo howl.
“The Foot of the Cross” (2015, from A Musical Personality Disorder) draws upon the early Quaker understanding and my own experience of the cross of Jesus as a place to stand and see oneself and others in a new light, a place where profound personal transformation can take place. It is also a place where the institutions and norms of the world seem less self-evident and inevitable. Not an easy place to stand, but the only place, once you find it.
“The Disorient Express” (2009, from The Political Unconscious) follows from “The Foot of the Cross” in logic if not in time. When you find that place to stand, you are disoriented from what passed for reality before. The world does all the moving, while “this train is going nowhere.” You don’t need to go looking for conflict — it will come to you. All you have to do is stand fast. I had to channel Leonard Cohen to find the voice for this song.
Of course, no one can just hang out in eternity during this life. Events and the demands of an engaged life routinely pull us off our center in that place. We have to learn over time how to keep getting back to that place and acting from there. “Swing by Eternity” (2020, from Every Doug Agrees) reflects on seventy years of life between eternity and time.
“Maranatha High” (2018, from Moments of Truth) draws upon the Aramaic word meaning “Come, Lord,” or “Our Lord has come” (at the end of 1 Corinthians and of Revelation). Thus, the song plays with the ambiguity between future hope and present fulfillment. In my Quaker tradition of worship, silent “waiting upon the Lord” is an expectation that invites revelations in the present. The structure of the song’s verses is chiastic — that is, they proceed from the center, mirroring in opposite directions. That structure is found in a variety of ancient biblical texts, perhaps intending to suggest the structure of mystical experience. You can also find it in “Questioningly,” by the Ramones (1978). Musically, this song drew inspiration from “Pay No Mind,” by Beach House (2018).
“Party in the Godhead Tonight!” (2016, from The Political Unconscious) was inspired by “Wang Dang Doodle” by Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf (1960) about a big party tonight and who’s going to be there. In the political unconscious, this is the party you want to join. Musically, the song came out somewhere between the blues and Southern boogie. It may be the only rave-up the Brothers Doug ever achieved.
There are many other mystery songs scattered through the CDs on this website. But we will wrap up this collection with “Ride That Alpha Wave” (2016, which concludes The Political Unconscious), a surfer-song from the ocean of love. Like “Maranatha High,” this song has a chiastic structure, with Yahweh at the center and verses mirroring out from there. Meanwhile, consonants give the words form, but life breathes through the vowels. I don’t know much about alpha waves. They seem to be the low background hum of the nervous system. The divine presence isn’t alpha waves, but has a similar quality, easily missed. Musically, this song draws inspiration from drone effects of “Venus in Furs” by the Velvet Underground (1967).
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