Sunday, July 6, 2008

In praise of XTC

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I wanted to take a moment here to thank Andy Partridge, a man who inspired me and comforted me in my spiritual journey when I was a child.

"Who?", you might ask. Rightfully so. The English band XTC is marginal at best - known mostly to people 'of a certain age' (which, sadly, I now am) and of a certain musical inclination. They never exactly tore up the pop charts. Or the rock charts. Or the Latin, adult contemporary or urban charts...

Yet I've known them since I was four. "Making Plans for Nigel" is the oldest song I can remember actually hearing on the radio. It came out in 1979. I don't know whether or not it was brand new but I do remember hearing it.

So I tended to follow them when I was a kid. "Senses Working Overtime", "All You Pretty Girls", "Grass"... I dug 'em all. Even though I was perhaps too young to know better.

I was twelve when they released "Dear God". I've spoken to people from around the world about religion, and it seems that people of my age either grew up in places that were explicitly and vocally theistic or were entirely non-theistic. Where I grew up in Southern Ontario in the 1980s, it was a bit different. Religion was never discussed in public arenas. No-one I knew went to church. There was kind of a tacit unspoken assumption that most of the Bible was pretty silly, really.

Yet - and here's the weird thing - God's actual existence was still kind of taken as an unspoken given. You should never talk about God, you should never make any important decisions based on books whose authorship is attributed to God, yet on a basic, fundamental level, you should believe in God.

After all, if you're wrong, what do you have to lose, blah blah blah...

I don't imagine I was ever any different than any of a huge number of atheist children growing up in theist societies - wondering if there was somehow something wrong with me, unable to get how belief seemed so easy and automatic for other people, wondering if I was truly alone.

Then, an acoustic guitar playing a simple series of chords. A childish voice imploring to God, a kind of dialogue - you know, like Billy and Jeffy knelt by the side of the bed. All normal, all systems go.

Then the child, simple and matter-of-fact, says to God, "I can't believe in you..."

The drum beat kicks in and the quite adult Andy Partridge takes over, rather more eloquently. The visceral thrill of hearing Andy Partridge eloquently declaim God-belief in a manner that was not at all lurid or illicit but very thoughtful was, ultimately, secondary to the shock of hearing someone just like me (age-wise) declaim disbelief.

I was not alone! I have no way to illustrate how important that revelation was to me.

The zen koans that litter the song gave me hours of food for thought. After the shock was the feeling that somehow it was all okay. That someone could be an atheist and still have a successful career in the public eye. Twenty-some-odd years later, if that response seems silly, it's a wonderful sign of how far we've come. At the time, it was a revelation.

What happened next? Blowhard hypocrites burning records and shouting about hell. An immediate knee-jerk reactionary response. Watching these bigots juxtaposed with the sweet kid and the eloquent adult and the tree made it indisputably clear who were the good guys in the public arena.

That's what I wanted to be - not a record-burning bigot but an unafraid declaimer of the truth. I wanted to be just like Andy Partridge.


And for showing me that I could be, and that it is okay to be, I am eternally grateful.

1 comment:

The Five Thinkers said...

Hey! Saw your post on the Nexus and I added you to my reader :)

I know this song, my husband is an XTC fan. Funny, I never really thought about the song that much. I'll certainly listen to it a little differently now.