Nirvana came up in conversation at work yesterday – the band, not the Buddhist idea. Some song from In Utero came on Pandora and I jumped to thumbs it down. Somebody expressed surprise that a Gen X’er such as myself would not like Nirvana, which prompted me to launch into a rant about how hard Nirvana sold out. Their first LP, Bleach was a solid piece of fuzz-punk that could turn goat piss into gasoline. Nevermind was pretty fuckin’ good – when they wrote those songs they were still hungry and had vision. Steve Albini cleaned it up a little more than I woulda liked, but he was doing the job he was being paid to do. By the time they recorded In Utero, Nirvana had become rock stars, doing photo shoots for Rolling Stone, kissing ass on MTV, swimming in groupies and cocaine. I might still be able to enjoy “Floyd the Barber” or “Mr. Mustache” in certain contexts, but anything after Bleach just reminds me of how well the music industry neuters anything good.
Punk rock took the industry by surprise. At that point – 1976 – nobody in the music business knew how to handle it. There was an immediate attempt to exploit the new youth culture, but the first wave punks were all too eager to bite the hands that fed them and it took a few years years to completely strip punk rock of any potential it might’ve had to be a transformative movement – not that there was realistically much chance of anything truly transformative coming from punk rock, but ya know, something. And yeah, sure, there exists the possibility that some kid somewhere will be blown away by some punk band like I was in ’84, but it won’t be the same because kids nowadays got the interwebs and don’t understand what it was like to listen to punk in a small town backinthedaywhenyahadtofightforitblahblah. The point is, the music industry – which has been appropriately likened to the Devil – figured out how to exploit it and strip it of any power.
So by the time Nirvana came around, the machinery was up and running and the Devil knew how to capture Cobain & Co. and turn them into corporate shills. It was a sad thing to watch. I’d seen the same basic story play out a few times by then – really, the Clash, who invented punk rock ethics, also paved the road of selling out punk rock style. God bless Joe Strummer, but he led his gang into whoredom at the same time he was writing songs about not being a whore. Many bands were able to drag out the process, but Nirvana went from punk rock berserkers to radio-friendly pablum in three albums. Worldly success killed Cobain. He mighta been able to handle a long, slow slog, doing the rock’n’roll thing, but suddenly having to guest host MTV Rocks and suck David Geffen’s dick was too much. Understandable.
And that is what the world does. When Jesus talked about hating the world – 1 John 2:15 – he did not mean the planet. He meant the world of people, the world of worldliness, the world of greed. The Bible is pretty clear about wealth and fame – Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, pretty much all of James. Jesus didn’t say one mumblin’ word about queers or abortion, but he made His thoughts on material success pretty clear, several times. And it took more than a few years for the Devil to co-opt Jesus’s legacy – I’d put it at about 28 October, 312. That was when Constantine had his vision of the Cross at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. From there, it was no time at all until the radical message of the Son of Man, a mendicant who had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), was made the State Religion of Rome. All the legalism of the Church, persecutions and burnings, Crusades and Inquisitions, chicaneries and abuses, all the awful shit that has been attached to Christianity, despite the very clear words of it’s Founder, stem from Constantine’s failure to grasp the real message. If he had read Matthew 19:21 and followed it, things would’ve turned out significantly different.
I’ve never been in danger of being successful. I don’t think I could do anything to please the popular kids if I tried, so anybody who wants to bring up “sour grapes” can do so now. Then again, I’ve never tried. That started in a place of brokenness, but as I’ve become less broken, I’ve embraced it as a way of life. The world – Babylon, the American Way, material success – is a snare of the Devil. (I use the word Devil not to mean a goat-man with a pointy tail and a pitchfork – it’s a fuckin’ symbol.) Anybody who begins to compromise with the “way things are” in order to achieve wealth, or even a comfortable income, has started negotiating with Satan. There’s a joke about a rich guy who approaches a woman in a bar and asks if she’d have sex with him for a million dollars. The punchline is “We’ve established what you are. Now we’re haggling about the price.” Point is, a whore is a whore. The crack addict selling her ass on the corner is in a much better position than the billionaire because she has some reason to find the motivation to change. Those in the top 1% have demonstrated that they’d rather see people die than give up anything they have – they do it everyday.
Poverty is the only defense. Solid commitment to the rejection of the things of the world. Conscious and deliberate refusal to compromise any principle in the attempt to make a buck or please the popular people. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t participate in the marketplace or use the available means to communicate – we are called to be in the world, Matthew 10:16 – but we are charged to be not of the world. Yes, we have to have food, shelter and clothing – and make our child support payments on time – but those things will be taken care of, Matthew 6:25:33.
So now – the message of Jesus Christ has been so totally hijacked by the Devil and his servants that it seems pretty nigh impossible to proclaim it. For years, I would just totally tune out when somebody started yammering about Jesus because I’d heard it all so many times and just didn’t care. I must have experienced some kind of miraculous reawakening in the recent past for it to matter at all to me. (Actually, my recent call to become a Lutheran pastor just gave me the motivation to try to look at Jesus a different way. I’m researching and taking in concepts, but I haven’t yet gotten swept off my feet by the thing.)(The Godhead is really what grabs my attention. And then the Holy Spirit.) When Luther was shouting about the grace of God through the Person of Jesus Christ, he was in danger of being killed – but people were paying attention. Now, it hardly matters. Indifference is a much more difficult foe than animosity.
(There are, of course, many individuals who have taken hold of the symbols and language of Christianity and turned them into instruments of hate. These people are fairly easily identifiable so I’m not gonna name names.)
Making Christianity matter to people. That’s the challenge now. Making anything matter. Getting people to look away from their screens for a few minutes.
You know – we could end poverty. We could feed every single person on this planet. We could provide health care – actual health care, not just insurance coverage – to everyone. Imagine a world without mass shootings.
I’m glad I don’t have to change the world. One thing I love about the Lutheran path that I just recently got on is that I don’t have to be responsible for fixing things. I’m a miserable sinner who can’t even get God to love me. All I have to do accept Her grace and act out of gratitude. So, I guess I’ll keep doing what’s right in front of me and let God handle the miracles.
Bringing it back around – the Devil, in the form of business as usual, strips anything new of whatever power it might once have had. The Clash gets watered down to Green Day. The love of God, embodied in Jesus, becomes a joke or an excuse to hate people who are already marginalized. There are ways of resisting the Devil – Matthew 4:1-11 provides some examples. We can live in the world, but not of the world, proclaiming the Word of God’s love for all people. It’s just gonna be hard. And we won’t get rich and famous doing it, which is kinda okay with me. I’d like to be able to afford a used, less-dented passenger-side door for my truck – and I’d like to buy a little two-bedroom house with enough yard to park the truck in the grass and put a new passenger-side door on, but wealth ain’t much appealing. And fame sounds like a nightmare.
I listened to Bleach while writing this. It sounded better in ’92 when I was on pot and percocet, but still alright.
Nirvana Bleach – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrJQIT66I5w