Some of the songs in this collection could have just as easily gone into the Mystery Collection, and some those could have gone here. Apocalyptic is where mystery meets history. Perhaps because my calling to ministry came in the cataclysmic year of 1968, I have long had an interest in the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation. Studying the early Quaker leader George Fox, I learned how to interpret these texts in terms of my own experience, both personal and social — and to interpret my experience in light of those texts. (On my other website, douglasgwyn.life, you can find several books devoted to this perspective.) The exotic imagery of apocalyptic literature has patterns I would call fractal. That is, they operate on any scale of experience, in any age. As such, they are not predictions of the future, as usually assumed, but revelations of present tendencies, with implications for faith and action. The songs in this collection have arisen from that understanding and from my experience over half a century of watching “the form of this world passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).
“In the Flow” (2008, from A Musical Personality Disorder) is probably the place to start. It begins with the Holy Ghost “burning me down to the ground” as she drives me on in following the call. It ends with life in the heavenly Jerusalem (from Revelation 22), “a riddle in the middle of this great big mess.” Rimbaud’s visionary “Drunken Boat” even makes a brief appearance in the song’s bridge. But the title and concept of the song come from the world of basketball, where players experience periods of being “in the flow” of the game. As an unskilled but passionate player, my experiences of that flow were few but enlightening.
“Babble On” (2015, from The Political Unconscious) follows from “In the Flow,” but was probably prompted by the unraveling political conversation of the time. From its do-wop (or pentecostal?) opening, this song moves into a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem (from Revelation 22), not from the outside but from the inside. Actually, that’s the only place where it can be seen. Everywhere else, Babylon’s babble, the world’s uproar, renders it invisible. Some kind of synaesthesia, I suppose. As suggested by “In the Flow,” the heavenly Jerusalem is “a riddle in the middle” of Babylon. The passage from Babylon to Jerusalem comes by way of a mysterious act named at the end of the song.
“Dreams and Visions” (2021, from The Last of the Brothers Doug?) was inspired by a review of my dream journals over most of my lifetime. Many of the dreams had apocalyptic, visionary dimensions, either hopeful or dismal. Jung suggested that there is a collective unconscious with millennia-old archetypes from which dreams form. We tend to emphasize the individual’s dream and ignore the larger reality Jung meant to suggest. The dream participates in the larger reality of a vast human and planetary history, much as apocalyptic spirituality understands personal spiritual experience as participating in cosmic and historical reality. The Book of Daniel, the only fully apocalyptic book in Hebrew Scripture (and the primary template for the Book of Revelation) mixes dreams and visions fluidly. This song attempts something similar.
“Noah’s Anarchy (a Fable for the Nineties)” (1995, from Moments of Truth) takes the Genesis legend of Noah’s ark and mixes it with Isaiah’s vision of animals in the peaceable kingdom (Isaiah 11), to create a “fable for the nineties.” It’s a satire about Americans finding all sorts of personal reasons to ignore the growing danger signs in society and the environment, and not “get on board” with a more just and sustainable life. At eight and a half minutes, this is easily my longest song — it takes a while to portray a good range of our excuses. But Mr. and Mrs. Serpent will have the last say.
“The Future Perfect” (2019, from Moments of Truth) explores that strangest of all tenses, which puts the future into the past, from the present moment of the speaker. I have always been intrigued by the future perfect, perhaps owing to my utopian tendencies, which are confessed here. There’s a brief echo in the last verse from John Lennon, the modern patron saint of dreamers. This grammarian song deplores the subjunctive mood, which is deplored at length in “Subjunctivitis” (2010, from A Musical Personality Disorder). That song unfortunately didn’t make it into this collection. Maybe it woulda-coulda-should’ve.
“Seven-Sealed Scroll” and “James Nayler 1660” (2020, from A Musical Personality Disorder) belong together in sequence. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph to this collection, I see the visions in Revelation as fractal: that is, they can be interpreted on any scale from personal to social, and in any age of history. They are not about the end of the world, but they can help us see an end of a world, a given socio-economic order and our participation in it. This song takes its language and imagery from Revelation 5-6: the revelation of the Lamb and the breaking of the seven seals on a scroll which contains the destiny of the world. You may recognize some of the images at play in this present time of conflict and transition.
In Revelation 6, the breaking of the seventh seal brings silence — hence, the song abruptly stops. “James Nayler 1660” follows. It is the testament of that early Quaker leader, who was savagely treated by Parliament for enacting a sign of Christ’s coming in the flesh of common people like himself, a Yorkshire farmer. He survived long enough to describe the sublime space where he had emerged. His words are spoken here in quiet cascades, with Steve Roach’s electronic soundscape, “Slowly Revealed” (2009) as background.
“Living in the End” (2013, from Terms and Conditions, rerecorded 2022) is more directly autobiographical or confessional. As some of the songs in the “Memoir Collection” suggest, my calling to ministry in the apocalyptic year of 1968 formed me in particular ways. The original recording was influenced by Neil Young’s “Running Dry” (1969), which gave it a more mournful tone than seems right. This rerecording comes closer to the song’s intention. It has a riff loosely inspired by Mick Ronson’s great guitar riff on David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” (1972), but played here on a synthesized koto.
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